University Writing Program (UWP)

(Formerly Expository Writing.) An introduction to research skills for UWP courses.

Before You Start

  1. What do you already know about your subject?
    Keep a list of key words, names, and events.
  2. How long has your subject existed?
    Is it a relatively new concept with a lot published about it, or new and undiscovered?
  3. What discipline does your topic fall into?
    A discipline is an area of study or branch of learning (e.g., History, Biology). Each has its own best starting points.
  4. How are you viewing the topic?
    Think about what you are planning to emphasize: politics, history, or another aspect?
  5. Keep the following in mind:
    How long do you have to do this project? How long does it need to be?

Three Approaches for Developing a Topic

Approach #1: List Key Words of Interest
Make lists of concepts and topics you find interesting, as well as lists of related words and synonyms. These can serve as your key search terms.

Concept 1: Concept 2: Look For:
school choice discriminination synonyms?
educational choice educational access related terms?
open enrollment access to education
alternate phrases?
educational vouchers social justice

key names, events?


Approach #2: Draw It Out
Sketch out the relationships between ideas.

Sample Topic Map

Approach #3: Define it in Sentences
Write an explanation of your topic, justifying it on multiple levels:

I am studying...
conformity in Woolf’s Orlando
in order to find out...

how Orlando’s efforts to conform and fit in change over time
in order to help my reader understand...

the role maturity and self-awareness play in the character’s efforts to conform to societal norms.

Adapted from The Craft of Research by Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, and Joseph M. Williams.