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ENGL 1500 - B. Devine - Online: Topics & Background Info

Background Information

When conducting research, it is helpful to know as much as possible about the topic as possible. An excellent place to gather such information is in subject encyclopedias. A subject encyclopedia will provide what is already know about the topic in detail, explaining exactly what the topic is about, who is involved, where it takes place, when it began, why it is a controversy and how it impacts other issues. Once you have a handle on the facts of the topic, you can narrow it down to an aspect you care enough about to investigate it with an open mind. Below are some suggested topics:


Choose to focus on one of these broad topics and narrow to a specific interest within that topic

  • Abortion
  • Minimum wage
  • Gun Control / Gun Policy
  • Campaign Finance Reform
  • Voting Rights / Reform
  • Citizens United
  • Wealth Inequality
  • Funding the EPA
  • Oil Spills
  • Covid-19
  • Health Care Reform
  • Homelessness

Develop a Research Question

Developing a research question is a process. You will not know your research question until you have done some preliminary research. You must find sources that discuss your ideas. As you learn more about your topic, your question will materialize and take shape. It will also change and shift. This is perfectly normal! Consider using the 5 Ws to help you narrow your topic and develop a research question.

Use the 5 Ws to narrow your topic

The Five W criteria can add context to your investigation and turn a topic into a research question.

  • WHO describes an individual or select population you are investigating.
  • WHAT describes a specific aspect or element that directly impacts the WHO.
  • WHEN is a time frame in which you might limit your investigation
  • WHERE is a geographical location where you might focus. 
  • WHY is the reason why this investigation is important or meaningful. The WHY is not necessarily a part of the final research question but more informative of the scope of the project in general.

Library Resources

Below are library resources that will provide you with background information as well as give you some insight to some of the broad topics listed.