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ENGL 120: Expository Writing

Guide for all 120 sections

Video: One Perfect Source?

The following video from North Carolina State University Libraries discusses why finding "one perfect source" should not be the goal of your search process.

Start With Preliminary Research

When you’re first learning about a topic and developing your research question, you may not know all the issues around the topic, and you most likely are not prepared to read and understand peer-reviewed journal articles on the subject. Or, you might not even know which topic you want to write about.

In these early stages it can help to do what is called preliminary research, to explore possible topics or gain useful background knowledge of the topic you choose.

A few kinds of sources that can be helpful for preliminary research

  • News articles, both news reports and opinion pieces
  • Encyclopedia articles (these are especially useful to help you define your terms or to learn some basic background information on your topic)
  • Websites of government organizations, non-profit groups, research institutes, think tanks, etc. You will have to analyze these websites for their point of view: it's important to keep in mind that these types of groups often take a particular stance on political and social issues.

A few places to look for preliminary research

Browse the New York Times and Wall Street Journal with your CUNY-sponsored access 

Available for free on the web

Available through Hunter College Libraries (on the databases list)

This database includes reports on many social, legal, and cultural topics. It doesn’t cover every topic, but you may find something useful. Search by keyword or click on "Browse topics" or "Browse reports."

This is a database that collects popular and academic sources on controversial topics. Try a keyword search or look at the "browse issues" section.

Or try some preliminary research using OneSearch, the main search bar on the Hunter College Libraries Homepage It searches through our books and electronic resources. After you search, use the filters on the left side of the page to filter by “Resource Type.” Try “Newspaper Articles” or “Reference Entries” (“Reference Entries” will get you encyclopedia and dictionary entries)

Brainstorm Your Keywords

As you develop your topic and perform some preliminary research, be sure to brainstorm your keywords.

Take a look at the following research question for example:

What is the relationship between social media use and loneliness in teenagers?

From this question, you can identify a few key concepts or ideas: social media use, loneliness, and teenagers.

But you may find that those words don't get you the search results you want. So it can help to brainstorm lists of synonyms, antonyms, and related terms, like in the chart below. If one search term fails, try an alternate. You can search various combinations of your keywords to achieve different search results. As you research, add to your list any new keywords that are used in the sources you've found.