Narrowing Your Research Topic and Searching for Sources

This tutorial shares strategies for narrowing wide research topics, and using advanced search features to pinpoint documents within your In Context resources.


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Hi, my teacher gave me an assignment.

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He wants me to do something on an important event

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in world history and explain why it's important.

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I know what I want to do.

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I want to do it on World War II.

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Great, let's go to World History In Context.

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This resource has magazines, journals,

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books and newspapers.

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How long is the paper?

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Five pages.

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And I need at least five sources.

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Well, World War II is a pretty big event.

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You're going to have to narrow your topic

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if you're only writing five pages.

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I know, but how?

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I have some ideas.

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Let's do a basic search on World War II.

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In the search box, key in the words World War II.

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Notice how it suggests terms as you type.

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We have a topic page here on World War II.

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You'll find an overview, featured content

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selected by editors, links to reference

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and primary source content,

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and here, newspapers, journals, magazines,

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video, images and audio.

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That's a lot of stuff.

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But how do I narrow my topic?

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Click on the title of the reference section.

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This is where the encyclopedia articles are.

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But there are hundreds of articles here.

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I don't have time to look at all these.

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It's almost as bad as Google.

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Scroll down the page a little.

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Notice on the right side of the page,

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you can limit your results by subject.

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You can also limit by document type.

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Let's try to limit our list by subject.

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Click the View More link at the end

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of the subject section to see all of the subject terms.

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Subject terms are headings that are attached

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to each article.

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Like tags when you label a story

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that you see online, or a tweet or something?

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Exactly.

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You can use this feature to help you limit your topic.

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You can also use it to get ideas.

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For example, maybe you can focus on World War II

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in the concentration camps.

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Or maybe you could look at military operations

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in World War II.

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You know, I was thinking

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about researching concentration camps.

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Now we've limited your search results list

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to just articles on concentration camps.

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Ooh, here's an article on concentration camps

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and whether or not the allies should've bombed them

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during the war.

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That's interesting.

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Great, so now you've narrowed your topic.

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Maybe you can use this article in your paper.

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Yeah, but I only have this one article

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on the topic.

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What you can do now

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is use the Advanced Search.

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Instead of only searching for articles

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on World War II, like we did in the basic search,

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let's also search for articles on concentration camps

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and bombings together.

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First, we'll put the search term, concentration camps,

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on one line.

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Make sure the keyword search option is selected.

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There are a lot of options.

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Yes, you're right, there are a lot of them.

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So I would try to remember just to key a few.

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A keyword search looks for your search term

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in the tile and the first paragraph of every article.

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Let's try one.

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Like this one here.

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The words concentration camps occur in the title

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in this first paragraph.

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Let's go back and look at some of the other search options.

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The subject search looks for those tags

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we talked about in each article

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and only those tags.

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Remember those?

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Yeah, absolutely.

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The other one you'll want to remember

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is the entire document search.

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This looks at every single word of every single article

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in your search term.

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Oh, that's good.

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I wanna do that.

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(chuckles) Well, let's be careful with that.

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There are millions of articles in here

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and you'll get a huge list of results

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from that kind of search.

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Now since we wanna search for two of our terms together,

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let's put the search term, bombing, on the next line.

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If you use the connector and, you will get articles

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that have both terms in one article.

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If you change it to or, you will get articles

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that have either one or the other in them.

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Okay, that makes sense.

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Now, see, you're getting articles

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on just the bombing of concentration camps.

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Yeah, and it tells me up here what I did.

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By the way, my professor also said

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that I need some primary source documents.

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You can also find

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primary source documents in here.

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Let's return to the Advanced Search page.

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Let's enter your search term concentration camps

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and then check Primary Sources,

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since we only want articles

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that are primary source documents.

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If you wanna get more specific,

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you can select just diaries or just letters

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in the Document Type section.

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Here, you'll find every document type

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found in this library resource.

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This is great.

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I'm sure I'll find enough for my paper.

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Use Advanced Search

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to conduct complex searches,

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like searches for multiple terms

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or by content type or document type.

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And remember that you can always narrow the results list.

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This may help you narrow you research topic,

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since all of these In Context resources work the same way,

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you're going to find the same features I've just shown you.