The Big Three: Rhetorical Analysis, Narrative, and Textual Analysis

In this post, I’ll be breaking down one of the most common types of papers we see come into the Writing Center in the fall, rhetorical analysis, and I’ll be giving you some tips and tricks along the way to help you as you write and revise. To start let’s go over what a rhetorical analysis actually is. A rhetorical analysis is an essay that focuses on determining what a writer is trying to do through their writing and then analyzes how well the author accomplishes this goal. This means that a rhetorical analysis:

  1. Determines whether the text is meant to be persuasive or informative,
  2. Argues that the text is effective or ineffective, and
  3. Explains why

After reading through the text you are going to analyze, a good place to start is with identifying the thesis statement. The thesis statement tells the reader what the rest of the work is going to be about. Usually, you can find it near then end of the first paragraph or section, but sometimes it can be a little trickier than that. Try looking out for key phrases like “This article will discuss” and statements that list the main support for the topic. Once you have identified what the writer is writing about and why they are writing, you can begin to analyze their effectiveness. Often this is done by identifying the use of rhetorical devices in the writing. The rhetorical devices that are discussed the most are ethos, pathos, and logos. To remember which one is which, I like to think of Ethos as Ethics, Pathos as Personal, and Logos as Logic.

Ethos uses credibility to persuade the reader. Try thinking about why the reader should believe the author’s work. Are thtwitter-checkmarkey an expert on the topic? What kind of experience do they have that relates to the topic (if any)? Do they use credible sources?

Think about it this way, if you were to go out and hire someone to bake a cake, who would you choose? You might go to a bakery and have a professional (or expert) make the cake. Or you might choose someone who just has experience with baking cakes, especially if they are following a trusted recipe. But you probably wouldn’t choose someone who had never baked a cake before in their life, even if they were following that same recipe. In this same way, we can look at the credibility of authors and their sources.

Pathos appeals to the reader’s emotions. Think about how the author wmaxresdefaultants the audience to feel about the topic. Which areas of the text make you feel this way the most?  Advertisements are great examples of emotional appeals.

Think about commercials you have seen for organizations that provide support for children in impoverished countries or neglected animals. These commercials create a feeling of sadness and sympathy that persuade the viewer to donate.

Logos appeals to the reader’s sense of logic. The author uses factual evidtumblr_mwl84lk0131s19sn0o1_250ence to support their claim and to persuade the reader. Think about what proof the author is providing, this includes data, statistical evidence, historical precedents, relevant examples, and cause and effect relationships. Does their argument make sense?

You see logos in commercials that claim “4 out of 5 doctors recommend…” and PSAs that use statistical evidence to reinforce their message; “Don’t text and drive” becomes a more convincing argument when it is paired with the number of deaths that have been caused by distracted drivers.

Other things that are important to consider while writing a rhetorical analysis include audience, situation, and tone. Ask yourself questions like: Who is the audience of this piece? Why did the author choose this audience?  Does the author connect with the audience and how? Are they using language that is understandable and appropriate for the situation? What is the tone of the piece? How does this tone help the author achieve their goal?

Textual Analysis

A textual analysis is usually assigned in connection to a prompt. This prompt can relate to elements of the text such as structure, main ideas, and evidence. You might see prompts that ask you to compare and contrast two works, discuss a theme, or explain the significance of textual elements like setting or voice. The first step you should take when writing a textual analysis is to read the text closely several times. While reading, I find it helpful to highlight or underline main ideas, and points that relate the question I’m being asked. I might even use different colors to indicate different topics or ideas. Also, feel free to make notes as you read, whether on the text itself or in a separate location, I find that this really helps me to remember the thoughts I had while reading, and gives me something to build off of when I begin to write.
When writing your response look back at places you highlighted or that jumped out at you from the text that seemed important or relevant to the prompt. Use these as examples when analyzing the text, but try not to use direct quotes too often. When I write this kind of analysis, a lot of the time I find myself just summarizing the text without connecting it back to my point. Remember that it’s not necessary to summarize everything that happened in the text, only include information that helps support your idea. For each piece of evidence you pull from the text, make sure to explain why it is important by connecting it to the topic or prompt. This is a great way to make your argument clearer, and, at the same time, it can help you to weed out textual information that you do not need.

A few other things to keep in mind are that your textual analysis should focus on the text, do not add your own opinions and avoid using first person. Make sure that the parts of the text that you refer to in your analysis address the prompt directly, and that when direct quotations are used that they are put in quotation marks.

Personal Narrative

A personal narrative is, basically, an essay written about a personal experience. Most of the time, personal narratives are written in the first person and sound a lot like a story, which means that they aren’t as formal as the other papers your professor assigns. In a personal narrative, you have the freedom to be creative and explore your writing style, so writing one can be a lot of fun, but it can also be challenging if you don’t know where to begin. That’s where I come in.

Starting is the Hardest Part

Or it can be anyway, especially with a personal narrative. It can be hard to decide what to write about, especially if you haven’t been given any guidelines. The trick that I use to narrow down the possibilities is to keep the page requirement in mind while I brainstorm. This can really help to narrow down the possibilities, after all not all experiences can be condensed down into two pages, nor can they all be stretched to eight. If the paper you are writing is longer, avoid choosing an experience that you do not remember very well, or that lacks detail. On the other hand, if the paper is shorter, avoid experiences that are too elaborate, or long, because when you go to write the narrative it may end up so packed with detail that it becomes confusing to the reader. Make sure that the experience you choose is appropriate for the length of the paper.

Making Introductions

When writing the narrative make sure that the opening paragraph, in some way, tells the reader the general subject of the story. I like to think of the traditional fairytale beginning “Once upon a time in a land far, far away” as a reminder of what type of information to include. “Once upon a time” reminds me to mention when the story takes place, and “in a land far, far away” reminds me to include a setting for the story. Next, most fairytales mention the main character and give the reader an idea of what problem they will be facing in the rest of the story. These are also good pieces of information to include in your introduction.


In the body paragraphs, be sure to structure the story, and to add interest by including details (especially sensory details; colors, textures, smells, etc.), dialogue, and using figurative language. For example, instead of telling the reader “She had been crying”, show them what you mean by including sensory details, “Her eyes were puffy and red, and every now and then she sniffed audibly”. Other details like colors and smells can really help to build a scene, but make sure not to add so much detail that it overwhelms the reader. Give details to the things that are most important to the story. For example, you might mention the color of someone’s shirt if it gets ruined later on, or you might explain the colors and smells of the county fair to create an atmosphere. Using details in the right places can help to guide your story by making it clear to the reader which parts are the most important. It is also important to make sure that the reader understands how you felt about the experience when it was happening. You can do this by explaining what you were thinking throughout the story and why. Make sure that your narrative is clear, and that readers can come away from the story knowing what happened and how you felt about the experience.

Wrapping it Up

In your conclusion, summarize what happened in the story and the impact it had on you. What kind of experience was it? You may also want to include how you feel about the experience now. What are your thoughts on the experience now that you have reflected on it?

Written By: Eylina S.



Outline of Outlines: Where to Start

I can remember how, even as early as elementary school, I was given worksheets that were meant to teach how to organize information into an outline. For me at least, this always seemed pointless. The writing assignment that went with the outline was always so simple, that it seemed like a complete waste of time to go through this first step. This is a common misconception about outlining, and I had it until I began to outline on my own. I’ve always had a passion for writing stories, and as I got older those stories became more and more complex. Eventually, I became so overwhelmed by my ideas that, for a time, I stopped writing entirely. When I did get back into it, it was only after mapping out all the different possibilities and deciding which way I wanted the story to go. That experience helped me to see how valuable outlining can be and I gradually began to use it when writing assignments for school. When you have a lot of information to fit into an essay, or you don’t quite know how you’re going to organize your thoughts, working it out in an outline first can save you a lot of time.

Outlines can be broken up into two major categories, formal and informal. In this post, I will be giving you an overview of what these outlines are and how you can use them to improve your writing.

Formal Outline Types

When a professor asks for an outline as part of an assignment, a formal outline is more than likely the kind they’ll be looking for. Formal outlines are neatly organized and show clearly the different sections of your paper and the main points you will include in each section. There are two types of formal outlines: Alphanumeric and Full Sentence. They both use the same basic format, but alphanumeric outlines list points as phrases or keywords, while full sentence outlines are just what their name describes, an outline where each point is written as a single complete sentence.

Alphanumeric Outline


I. Section

               A. Main Point

                             1. Sub point

                                           a. Additional Information

Full Sentence Outline


I. Outlines come in different forms that can be used in different ways to improve your writing.

A. Formal outlines can be used to give you or others a general sense of how your                     paper will be organized.

1.Full sentence Outlines are one type of formal outline.

When you are outlining informally, you are outlining for you own benefit, and do not necessarily need to create an outline with a specific type of structure. These outlines can come in many forms, you can follow these examples, or create one of your own!

Web Outline

The web outline starts with the bubble-outlinethesis statement, or topic of the paper, in the center and then branches out with main ideas and sub points. This method is especially helpful when brainstorming.

 Post it Note Outline

For a post-it note outline, create sections on poster board, or just label areas in a room, to correspond with the main points of your paper. Then, write sub-points on post-it notes as they come to mind and place them into the corresponding section. This method can really help if you have trouble organizing your ideas.


You can also try outlining by creating lists or using bullet points. And remember, since informal outlining is something you are doing for yourself, it can be as simple or complex as it needs to be, as long as it works for you!

Don’t forget- if you are struggling with outlining your research paper, the Writing Center is always glad to help!

Written by Eylina S.


Resisting the Holiday Homework Halt


holidayhaltAh, November. We meet again. Whether your a December grad or a first-semester freshman, this is easily the most challenging part of the semester—or even the whole school year because on top of cramming to get all of our final projects done, we’re interrupted by holiday breaks.

Since they are very sorely needed, here are 5 tips to get work done over Thanksgiving break:

1. Utilize travel time

Many of us are driving ourselves home for the holidays, but there are still ways to use that time wisely. During my sophomore year, a professor told my class, “Thinking about work is actual work.” This is more true than you might realize. If you don’t take time to think through your ideas, they’ll stay half-baked, and the final result will be significantly less amazing. So, think about your homework/work-related ideas, recognize any bare spots, and consider about how you might be able to fill them in. When you finally get in front of a screen to write them down, you’ll be surprised how easily your good ideas come back to the surface.

Lucky passenger students, the world is your oyster. The thinking idea applies to you too. You simply have the freedom to get your ideas out on your Notes app or scrap paper.

Let others do a little driving. If you’re carpooling from home to Grandma’s or a Black Friday destination, take the passenger seat and study.

2. Resist the urge to nap!

If all of the adult-adults are going to bed for the afternoon, open your backpack and get some work done in what is probably one of the only quite hours of the holiday.

If you absolutely can’t resist, set an alarm for a quick 15-20 minutes-which is ideal anyway.

3. Work during the football game

The average NFL game lasts 3 hours and 12 minutes. That’s a good chunk of time! And because of the frequent commercial breaks, you won’t miss much while you work. If your family is anything like mine, the collective “ooh!”s from around the room will alert you in time to catch the highlights.

4. Be honest

Don’t feel obligated to slouch on the couch when you have finals to prepare for. Be honest, and tell your family that you need to get some work done. If you’d call them “supportive” any other day of the year, there’s no reason they should take it personally. Hopefully, they’ll be proud of your dedication to your degree.

5.  Prepare

Make note cards before you go! These are much more portable and easy to whip out when you have a moment to review. Use these:

  • In the passenger seat
  • In a Black Friday line or on a bench in the mall
  • While you’re not helping in the kitchen
  • Instead of playing with the tiny tots


written by Rachel A.


Toxic Topics


Throughout college we do a lot of writing—like A LOT. On the plus side, professors give us a pretty wide range of genres to work in and with so many different professors to study under, we get a healthy dose of variety. Not only is this awesome practice for reading and writing in multiple genres for the rest of our lives (assuming we survive college) but it keeps us from going “Crazy” writing the same thing over and over!

Below are a few genres you may find yourself writing in and topics to look out for when writing. While these ideas are termed “toxic,” keep in mind that you are free as a bird to write about whatever you please. You is kind, you is smart, you is important! However, it’s important to remember that you are writing for an audience that is not just you.

Don’t turn off your reader!

These are not topics to absolutely avoid, but be wary and pay attention to how these topics can be addressed skillfully and successfully.

Research Papers:

  • Very broad topics
    1. “The history of Rome”
      • Good luck! That’s thousands and thousands of years to cover in a semester or even a unit.
      • What about… “The road to Rome?” This way, we’re specifically looking at how the birth of Rome came to be.
  • Ambiguous topics
    1. “The Effects of World War II”
      • This could mean a lot of things—positive effects or negative effects? Economic or cultural effects? Long term effects? Not only is this broad but it could mean so many different things!
      • Maybe try… “The negative effects of World War II on the family unit.” Or… “The economic effects of World War II” Perhaps… “The effects of World War II on America’s workforce”
  • Extremely Spiritual topics
    1. “Is God real?”
      • While a topic like this may have personal meaning, it will make for a difficult research project! Research writing depends on evidence and conducted research; it would be nearly impossible to research a spiritual entity’s existence.
      • Instead… “The evolution of Christ: Examining ancient to modern cultures.”

Persuasive & Argumentative Papers:

  • Very broad topics
    1. “Women Are Mistreated”
      • While this could be a good starting point, where would the argument even start or end? There are too many years, situations, cultures, movements etc., to work through. Plus, yes, they are mistreated but so are men, children, and even animals—there’s no argument.
      • Go further with… “The objectification of women in the media is negatively influencing the romantic interactions between teens.”
  • Stereotyping
    1. “People raised in wealthy families are snobbish.”
    2. “Men are manipulators.”
    3. “Women love to talk.”
      • Let’s refer back to, “Don’t turn off your reader!” The last thing we want is to offend or alienate our readers.
      • Solid arguments with evidence can’t be formed on stereotypes.
  • Newer concepts/ideas/theories
    1. Be wary of choosing topics that are fresh in the field you’re working in. While newer topics are intriguing, there may be little research done yet, making the argument weak.

Memoirs & Narratives:

  • Extremely personal topics
    1. While we may be comfortable writing about it, the reader may be uncomfortable reading it—especially if the connection between reader and writer has not yet been built.
    2. Simply, be aware of the topic: its implications, how detailed it is, how it might make the reader feel etc. Ultimately, it is 100% up to you, and it won’t hurt your grade whatever you decide.
  • Too shallow topics
    1. “One time I lost $50 and it sucked.”
      • Okay, let’s get a little more personal than that! There is definitely a happy-medium. Memoirs and narratives are meant to be reflective, show personality, lessons learned etc.
      • Instead, “One time my best friend stole $50 from me because they really needed it and I learned how to forgive and talk things out when I’m angry”
      • Maybe even stick with losing $50! Just tweak it…“One time I lost $50 and in the end, I learned that money isn’t the most important thing in life”

Don’t forget—if you’re struggling with a topic idea, the Writing Center is happy to help!


written by Amy S.


Thesis Statements for Persuasive Assignments


Your professors have probably mentioned that a thesis statement is one of the most important aspects of an assignment. They can make or break a paper. Although they are short, they have a huge impact because they inform the reader about the purpose of the paper or your central argument.

In its simplest form, a thesis statement is usually something that can be argued, unless you are writing an informative paper. However, most assignments students will write in college tend to be argumentative or persuasive, meaning it is important to learn how to summarize a main point in one or two sentences. Students should also remember that all thesis statements, persuasive or informative, need to have credible sources and facts to back them up, otherwise they are empty arguments and are easy to poke holes in or disprove.

In the Writing Center, I have found that one of the most useful techniques for students to develop thesis statements is to answer one question: What is the point of this paper? It is also useful for a student to try to think of a thesis statement like a mathematical formula: A + B = C, or basically, “this means this because of that.”

Another important thing to do is to show creativity and comprehension in your arguments. When writing a paper, you don’t want to just copy what your sources say because it doesn’t show understanding. You want to demonstrate to the professor that you know the material. Some examples of the dos and don’ts of thesis statements are provided below, so you can see what would qualify as an argument and what wouldn’t.


Thesis: Recycling is good for the environment because it prevents the pollution of the environment with harmful materials.

Not a Thesis: People should recycle.

In this scenario, the second sentence is not a thesis statement because it has no reasons to support it. Why should people recycle? How should they do so? Is it beneficial? There are too many questions left unanswered.

Thesis: It is important for students to study because research shows that students who study perform well on assignments and gain a better understanding of the material.

Not a Thesis: Students perform 30% better when they study compared to students who don’t.

In this case, the second sentence is not a thesis because it does not try to make an argument. It is a statement of fact, but makes no attempt to persuade the audience.

Thesis: It is reasonable for people to skip breakfast because eating in the morning makes many people feel nauseous, it is a great way to save money, and the concept of the big “American” breakfast is just a scam by the cereal companies.

Not a Thesis: People should not eat breakfast because I don’t like it.

Finally, the second example here does no work because it does not include any facts or a reasonable, credible argument. Although it may seem obvious that an opinion does not work, many students have a hard time determining what an argument is and what an opinion is. Be sure to make sure that your thesis statement has credible evidence and is applicable to the situation

So, when writing a thesis statement for an argumentative paper, it is crucial to remember to do a few things:

  1. Always include an argument with clear reasoning

  2. Make sure that argument can be supported by credible evidence

  3. Opinions are not facts and are not valid evidence

The “Procrastinator’s” Survival Guide to Writing

It is safe to say that most of us have waited until the last minute to finish, or even start, a paper. Unless you are an overachiever, and kudos to you if you are, you understand the stress that comes with being a procrastinator. Everyone has their own methods and strategies to crank out an A paper the night before–or a C if that’s all you really need to pass. But, when the time comes, what supplies are necessary for writing a paper the night before the due date?

Some essentials:

  • The essential essentials– Obviously, you’ll need your sources (printed or otherwise), any supporting materials like your assignment sheet, and maybe even have Purdue OWL pulled up for a quick reference point when working on citation styles!
  • Caffeine– Let’s be real. More often than not, writing a paper the night before its due can take you into the morning hours. Staying alert is crucial, otherwise you might make silly grammar mistakes and who has time to edit a paper at 6 in the morning and your class is at 9? That’s where caffeine comes in and becomes your best friend! The most obvious source of caffeine would be coffee, however, if coffee isn’t your style, there is always Mountain Dew or various other sugary/caffeine loaded drinks. If you’re a stress eater, maybe keep a bar or two of chocolate (chocolate has some caffeine, but isn’t the most effective) in your room for emergencies like this. You might store some dark chocolate, or even mints, for nights like this since they are full of memory-boosting vitamins and antioxidants!
  • Web Blockers– If you’re like me, you are easily distracted by the internet and its endless possibilities. I think we all can admit to scrolling through old Facebook posts on our old crushes’ wall until we’ve reached 2009 and then realized it was 2 in the morning. Oh, that’s just me? Well in any case, there are plenty of extensions that can help you avoid such scenarios as you try to write your paper. StayFocused is a Google Chrome extension that allows you to lock yourself out of a website for a certain amount of time. While it could be annoying, the lock can’t be undone and you really do have to wait the amount of time that you set. This would allow you to avoid those pesky distractions and could definitely be beneficial whenever you are studying, not just in those last minute panic sessions.
  • Isolation– When I have found myself in this type of situation, and it happens often, I need complete isolation. As you probably know already, roommates can be a huge distraction. That is why I actually like working on papers late at night and after my roommates have gone to bed. Feeling as though I am home alone cuts down on distractions, but not completely because I still have Wi-Fi access (I am definitely going to try StayFocused in the future!). Also, putting on music can help you concentrate and fills that deafening silence which can be a distraction too.


written by Josh D. (WC alumnus)

The “Overachiever’s” Survival Guide to Writing:

There are two types of paper writers: those who have their paper written and revised a week before the due date and those who finish typing the last word ten minutes before the paper is due.  There is not a right or wrong way to plan and write a paper; however, getting a head start may help alleviate some of the stress of an upcoming assignment.

  1. Do your research: Jumping into writing a paper can prove to be nerve-wracking.  Therefore, before worrying about the introduction or organization of the paper, it is necessary to gather all the information you want to use.  Printing sources to mark on may be beneficial, although some people choose not to.  In addition, selecting more sources than required is not a problem. In fact, having too many sources can be rewarding because it allows you to be pickier about the kind of information that supports your paper.  For example, you may stumble upon three great sources that all contain the same information.  In that case, you could choose just one source, the most credible, to use for your paper and cite it on the bibliography/works cited page.  Having multiple sources that say the same thing is unnecessary and redundant, unless each one makes different points to reach a common goal, but having one strong source adds depth and credibility to a paper that other sources may not provide.
  1. Annotate and pinpoint information to use: The next step is to read the articles selected thoroughly.  Highlighting or taking notes on important information may be helpful, as it helps you keep track of the information you may want to incorporate into your own paper.  Also, consider writing down how you would like to use the information in your paper.  Taking note of your plan during the annotation step helps later in the writing process when deciding how to shift from topic to topic in the paper.

The style of annotation may vary from paper to paper.  For example, for an informative or argumentative paper, highlighting factual information may be most helpful, while for an analysis, it may be more helpful to highlight certain word choice or style choices the author made.

  1. Outline: After highlighting or taking notes on the sources and deciding which information to use, making an outline may help keep you on track while writing your paper.  An outline can be mental, a list, post-it notes, or a chart.  Some techniques work better for one person, while other techniques work better for another person, so there is no limit on options.  The important goal of an outline, though, is to make sure there is a solid, but flexible plan for how you want the paper to progress. Devising a logical progression will aid with making smoother transitions throughout the paper!
  1. Revise: Revision is key to making a paper look freshly polished and appealing to the audience and the professor!  Slowly reading the paper aloud to yourself is recommended.  Be sure to read every word carefully and listen to what you wrote.   By reading the paper aloud, the reading is slowed down, which makes it easier to catch mistakes that would be overlooked if reading silently.  While spell-check is a great invention, it only evaluates spelling, and does not take into account how well the correctly-spelled word fits into the sentence.  For example, there is a huge difference between “skeptic” and “septic”.  Through a quick-reading, a small typo can be easily overlooked, but slowly reading aloud makes it more likely that small, but significant errors will be caught.  Plus, reading through the paper a final time forms the perfect opportunity to spice up the language in an essay to make it more appealing to the senses.


written by Jaclyn H.


4 Tips to Help You Avoid Plagiarism

Plagiarism is one of the most common threats students must deal with in college.

Although plagiarism sounds like it would be easy for students to avoid, it is actually one of the problems most commonly dealt with in the Writing Center. Plagiarism is when a student uses someone else’s work without giving the original author credit. Many students know that a citation is needed when they use a direct quote. Less commonly known is that a citation is also needed when paraphrasing information, or taking facts from one source and summarizing them in an assignment. Even if the information was not copied directly, it is still important to give credit for three reasons:

  1. The other author needs acknowledgment for their intellectual contributions.
  2. It enhances the credibility of a student’s argument if they can show they used strong sources.
  3. It shows the student understood the material well enough to put it in their own words.

Recently, students have come into the Writing Center with an unusual problem: self-plagiarism. Self-plagiarism is when a student tries to use the same paper in two different classes. The most common example seen has been when a freshman tries to reuse a paper they submitted in high school for one of their introductory English courses. Although the student might not consider it plagiarism, doing so qualifies as academic dishonesty because the student is not completing the individual assignment like they are supposed to. They are essentially copying their own work to try to get credit for multiple assignments. If the problem is not corrected, they might end up with a failing grade or a visit from the Dean’s office, neither of which would be pleasant.

Here’s some tips on how you can avoid plagiarism:

  1. Make a list of what information you know about the subject first. This is information that does not need to be cited and can be used as is.
  2. When doing research, make a list of what information comes from each source. Include any quotes that might be useful. This way, when it’s time to write the paper, you have a short document that can be used for reference.
  3. If you are unsure of whether information needs to be cited, you can ask yourself, “Did I know this before I read the source?” If not, it needs to be cited.
  4. Always ask for permission before using old work for a new assignment. Professors assign work so students get a chance to develop their skills, and you can’t do that if you don’t do the assignment.

Hopefully, this short post helps you understand what plagiarism is and how it can be avoided!


written by Heather D.


Topics & how-to pick ’em

It is not uncommon for a professor to give a writing assignment with few restrictions on a topic.  Choosing a topic is sometimes the hardest part of writing a paper because the options can seem endless and overwhelming! However, sufficient topic choice for a paper or speech can be detrimental to writing or performing well in a class.  Some of the worst blunders a student can make when selecting a topic are as follows: not choosing a topic of interest, choosing a topic with zero background knowledge, or choosing a topic that is inappropriate or does not apply to a particular assignment. So, to make choosing a topic less stressful, let’s break each of these categories down to help evaluate how to choose intriguing and fitting topics!

  1. Choose a topic you are interested in.

Keeping your interests or your field of study in mind is the best piece of advice I can give for choosing a topic.  Choosing a topic that you have little to no interest in will make researching that topic much more difficult.  If you enjoy your topic, you will enjoy doing the research.  Being interested in your topic will also ensure you experience a type of learning that will stick in your brain longer.

  1. Choose a topic you have some background knowledge on.

 It is a lot harder to take a side on an issue or to narrow down a topic if you know nothing about it.  Having previous knowledge on a subject can also be beneficial for the researching process because finding relevant information on a topic is much easier when you have an idea what you’re searching for.  Another thing to keep in mind is to consider choosing a topic you have already written or given a speech about.

DISCLAIMER: This does not mean to re-use an old paper or speech for a new class.  What this does mean is that it is okay to choose to repeat a topic AS LONG AS the method of approaching the subject and the content of the paper or speech is fresh.  For example, if you are interested in animal hunting but have already written a paper for one class about the history of hunting animals and how it evolved, you could choose to write about the same topic again, but take it in a new direction.  The new paper may cover a more specific part of hunting, like sport hunting or big game hunting, answering a moral question.  Should animal hunting be considered a sport? or Should sport hunting be illegal?  Or you may choose to do another research option, like how societal views of hunting animals change from one culture to another.  There are endless possibilities for how you can write about a single subject. Just be sure you are conducting novel research and writing about the subject in a new and innovative way for each assignment.

  1. Always choose a topic that is appropriate for the class and the assignment.

The class, the audience, and the assignment should always be taken into account when choosing a topic.  Your topic should always be relevant and interesting, while still applicable to the class.  If you are in a communication class, choose a topic relating to communication. Remember that you can even choose a topic that has been covered in class if you found it particularly interesting; just be sure to expand on what was covered in class, rather than restating information.  Most important of all, be creative with your topic and have fun!

written by Jaclyn H.


Resources We Recommend: Academic Sources Edition

Here are some helpful tips to find academic sources on campus:

Helmke Library offers many resources to help students find reference material and academic sources for conducting research and writing papers.    These resources can be found by typing “” into the URL bar.  Off to the right side of the screen, there are 5 colored boxes. Each of those boxes represent a different service that the library provides.



  • ASK A LIBRARIAN” allows students to chat with or make an appointment with a librarian to get information about finding sources.


  • IUCAT CATALOG” allows students to view IPFW Helmke Library’s entire book catalog online.


  • DATABASES A-Z” allows students to view all the databases that Helmke Library offers to students for free. Although Academic Search Premier and INSPIRE seem to be the most popularly used, there are hundreds of other databases that may be of assistance when researching certain topics. Most of the databases allow students to type in keywords in order to search for articles relating to general research they are trying to find.


  • TOPIC GUIDES”, allows students to search on a more narrowed down scale for material. This link lets students select their major or area of study. Then, a list of credible books, journals, or databases pops up that will enable students to find more information specific to their field of study.  Students can then either request suggested books or view them online.  They can also click on the recommended databases to search for research.


  • DOCUMENT DELIVERY” allows students to request books or journals that cannot be viewed online. This link also permits students to check the status of requested materials, so they know when it can be picked up from the library.  Most databases also have a ‘request document’ option for journals that cannot be viewed online.  By requesting a document, the library can send a copy of a desired article through e-mail to a student, usually within a couple of days.


The most important thing to keep in mind when looking for articles to use in a paper is to make sure that the author is credible.  Be sure that the writer has the experience or credentials that gives them appropriate knowledge to write the article.



To check citation style:


Purdue OWL is the most updated resource that gives students the ability to check or learn how to cite source material in the proper format.  Most commonly on Purdue OWL, the Writing Center uses the MLA style guide, the APA style guide, and the Chicago style manual.  Each link under those sections explains how to fully cite sources in the bibliography, as well as how to form in-text citations.  It also provides examples to help students understand the layout and format for citations in different circumstances.



written by Jaclyn H.