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Essay Writing: Choosing/Narrowing Your Topic

The Monroe College Guide to Essay Writing presents the information necessary to write effective essays.

Presentation: Choosing and Narrowing Your Topic

Boolean Operators and Truncation

The Boolean operators AND, OR, and NOT are often used to combine keywords when searching research databases. Use of these operators can make your search more focused, thus yielding more precise search results. But before using the operators, it's necessary to understand how they actually work.

Boolean Searching

 

Boolean Search Illustration

 

Keep in mind that the connectors AND and NOT generally limit your search (decreases the number of hits) and the connector OR expands it (increases the number of hits). So the following strategies naturally follow:

  • If you are retrieving too many records on your topic, try adding another search term with the connector AND.
  • If you are retrieving too many records on an unrelated topic, try eliminating a word with the connector NOT
  • If you are retrieving too few records on your topic, try adding another search term with the connector OR.

Advanced Search Methods: Truncation / Wildcards / Controlled Vocabulary

Truncation

Truncation allows you to search the "root" form of a word with all its different endings by adding a symbol to the end of a word. Example: typing in bank* will retrieve results with these words: bank, banks, banking, bankers, bankruptcy The most common truncation symbol is the asterisk * but databases vary. Check the database Help section to find the correct truncation symbol. Example: bank* bank! bank# bank? See the sample search below for results using "bank*" in a Discovery search.

Finding Newspaper and Website Articles on the Internet

Go to the best source for the type of information that you want.

Some suggested websites:

Finding Newspaper Articles in the Databases

In order to use the sources listed below, you'll need to log in to the Library Databases.

Go to MyMonroe and select the Library Resources Gadget Library Resources Icon

(Login details here.)

You might want to try:

  • Historical New York Times (Proquest) 
    A searchable Index going back to 1851.
  • InfoTrac Newsstand (Gale)
    Full-text newspaper database with several New York Newspapers including the New York Times from 1995 on, and over 1,000 major U.S. regional, national, and local newspapers. 
  • National Newspaper Index (Gale)
    Provides article citations from 1977 to present for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor, Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post. 
  • National Newspapers Premier (ProQuest)
    Online access to current and back issues of the most respected national and regional newspapers from across the U.S.  Titles include The Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor, Washington Post, Barrons, USA Today and many more.
  • Newspaper Source (EBSCO)
    Provides cover-to-cover full-text for more than 40 national (U.S.) and international newspapers, selective full-text for more than 370 regional newspapers, and full-text television and radio news transcripts. 
  • US Newsstream (ProQuest)
    Most recent premium U.S. news content, as well as archives that stretch back into the 1980s featuring newspapers, newswires, blogs, and news sites in active full-text format. Coverage: 1980 - current.

Search Strategy Worksheet

Researching Your Topic

What is Your Topic?

Write a description of what your paper is about in no more than three sentences.  If you are having trouble, ask yourself what you want to prove in your paper, or try phrasing your topic as a question.

What are Your Main Ideas?

Pick out the most important ideas from the three sentences you just wrote out. You will link the concepts with AND when you search

1st Concept    ____________________________________________________________________________________

2nd Concept   ____________________________________________________________________________________  

3rd Concept    ____________________________________________________________________________________

You don’t have to have three concepts. You can have more or fewer, but try to begin with at least two.