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Forming your topic

Finding your topic is research image

Forming a topic in literary research begins with a close reading of the work(s) you wish to anayze. As you read the text, annotate it; that is, take notes. Look for patterns, connections, and contradictions. Make observations about the form, themes, and characters. Ask questions. These questions can often lead to research questions. 

After you have read the text several times, consider reading some background information about your text. You can read about:

  • The work you are analyzing
  • The author
  • The time period or literary movement
  • The form

You may be able to find this information online, but library databases and printed reference works also offer background information. One useful database is:

You can also browse through scholarly journals when looking for a topic. This will help you see the current scholarly conversations, models of good research, refine your topic, and find sources that you can use in your project. 

As you browse through these sources, be sure to note:

  • Topics that interest you and/or intersect with what you are learning in class; engaging with a topic is a key to success. 
  • Keywords and subject terms for main concepts; using these terms will help you find information more effectively in the databases or websites
  • Where authors disagree (usually in the introduction) or areas for more research (usually at the end of an article); these are subjects you can explore. 
  • Sources in the text and the reference section that may be useful to you.
  • The names of key authors so you can find more of their works; key authors are those names you may observe several times.