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HIST. 111 - U.S. 19th Century History - Prof. Vecchio - Spring 2021: Developing a Research Question and Search Strategy

Developing a Research Question

  • Understand the assignment!     
  • What are the requirements?
  • Use analytical thinking and strong arguments.

Developing a Research Question or Thesis:

Questions to consider while doing your research:

               What is the purpose of the assignment?

                       Ex. What kind of essay are you writing? Persuasive? Argumentative?

               Why have you chosen this topic?

               Why would your readers be interested in this topic?

               What types of sources will you need?

                      Ex. Articles from library databases? Newspapers? Online articles? eBooks? Print?

                      Ex. Primary sources? Secondary sources? Tertiary sources?

               What kind of information will you need to find? 

                      Ex. Current? Historical? Scientific study? Surveys?          

               How will you search for these sources?

                      Ex. What is your search strategy? Concepts and keywords?

               Where will you find these sources?

                      Ex. Library databases? Reports? Websites?

                Does your topic connect to present day conditions in society?

Develop a Search Strategy

Search Strategies: using keywords, synonyms / related concepts and truncation:

Relevant keywords are necessary for effective research. You can start by taking keywords from your thesis statement.

There are other ways to develop additional keywords.

1. Use synonyms and related concepts

         Think of other words that mean the same or similar things as the words in your question. It can help to brainstorm before you begin your search.

  • Abolitionists OR Underground Railroad OR American Anti-Slavery Society
  • American Civil War OR The War Between the States
  • Battle of Little Big Horn OR Sitting Bull OR George Armstrong Custer OR Black Hills
  • Trail of Tears OR Indian Removal

Look at the subject terms in your search results and see if you can use any of those.

2. Use truncation:

       You can broaden your search results by typing an asterisk symbol  *  at end of the root of a word. When you do this, the computer will search for alternative endings for the word you have typed. 

       For example, typing abol* will yield results for:

              Abolish    abolition    abolitionist(s)    abolishment‚Äč    abolished     abolishing

       Typing 187* or 18*70s  will yield results for 

               All the years of the 1870s

3. Create parameters

            Limit your topic to a specific time period or geographical region.

             Ex. Reconstruction in Georgia

4. Refine your topic

             Start with a broad topic and narrow it down by thinking of some of the issues associated with it. 

             Ex. Broad topic:  American Civil War

                   Narrowed topics:  Battle of Chickamauga, Braxton Bragg, Army of Tennessee

                   Thesis: General Bragg’s failure to pursue the Federalist forces after winning the Battle of Chickamauga was a missed opportunity for the Army of Tennessee.

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