English 110 – D. Starkey – What matters most to you?

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About this guide

This guide provides students with specific strategies, tools, and tips to complete Essay #1: What matters most to you?

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Your Assignment

Essay #1: Write approximately 1,000 words on a topic that is most important to you. Within the essay, express why this topic is important using 3 – 5 credible sources to support your topic.

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Choosing a Topic

Anytime you have a new research assignment, it can be challenging to decide on a topic! It can be even more challenging to select a topic when you can choose anything you like. Below are a couple suggestions on how you can begin the process of selecting a topic for Essay #1: What matters most to you?

Free Write


When you “free write” you simply put pen to paper (or fingers to keys) and start writing! You can start anywhere, such as, “I am suppose to start writing about my topic, but I’m not sure where to start… I don’t think I like the shoes I wore today…”

Keep writing for 5 – 15 minutes. Remove any judgement or criticism from your writing!

Once you’re finished, read your writing to identify words, phrases, and sentences that lead you to a more focused interest or topic area.



You may find that you prefer to simply write down words or phrases that come to mind! Creating a list may seem haphazard at first. But, similar to free writing, creating a list will help you identify areas of interest to you.

Do not filter your words! You may that find terms and phrases which seemingly no relevance to each other are significant to you and your interests!

Mind Map

Mind mapping is similar to lists in that you start writing down words or phrases that come to mind. However, when creating a mind map, you’ll often cluster words and phrases together in different patterns. These patterns help you to identify concepts that are interrelated to you and have meaning at a deeper level.


Once you’ve gone through brainstorming your topic, and have come up with a central focus, you will want to start developing keywords.

Keywords are the words you choose to describe a topic or concept. Identify at least 3 – 5 keyword terms and phrases that you would likely use in a search, and test them out in a search tool!

If you can’t find what you’re looking for, you may need to consider doing a little background research on your topic to identify other terms to use. The words you use to describe a topic may be different from the words used in the library discovery tools, such as the library catalog and databases.

Search Tips:

Identifying New Keywords

Wikipedia is not a good source to use for academic research, but it is a perfect tool to use for picking up new terms associated with a topic or concept!

Use Wikipedia, or other background sources such as dictionaries, thesauri, and encyclopedias, to expand your search term options.

Try out Credo – a very credible online encyclopedia and dictionary available to you with your Pipeline ID & password!

Phrase Searching


Put quotation marks around keywords that are phrases, such as “distance learning” or “global warming” or “fashion industry.”

Boolean Logic

There are 3 simple words in Boolean logic: AND / OR / NOT

Venn DiagramAND: Narrows your search, requiring both terms to be present in your result list.

OR: Expands your search, allowing either term to be present in your result list.

NOT: Narrows your search, omitting any results including the term.


The library’s collection includes both print books and online ebooks. Search the library catalog, or ask a librarian for help finding books on your topic. Your search results will include articles as well. Limit to books by choosing the appropriate box from the menu to the left of the results.


Periodical articles usually provide the most current information on a topic. Journal articles are more scholarly while magazine articles tend to be shorter and more general. Newspaper articles usually include the most current information of the three periodical sources.

To find articles on your topic, use one of the online databases listed below. These databases usually provide full-text articles. To access databases from off campus you will need to log in with your pipeline account number and password.

  • Academic Search Premier Includes articles from both scholarly and popular sources in all subject areas.
  • JSTOR Includes articles from hundreds of scholarly journals covering a wide range of subjects in the arts, humanities, sciences, and social sciences.
  • Newspapers Several databases with searchable full-text versions of many of the largest papers.
  • Country WatchContains information about countries, including news on the latest political, economic, corporate, and environmental events as they occur, and detailed geographical, political, economic, corporate, and environmental briefings.

These databases provide pro/con information on current and controversial topics:

  • CQ Researcher Provides in-depth, unbiased reports of both sides of controversial issues related to health, social trends, criminal justice, international affairs, education, the environment, technology, and the economy.
  • Opposing Viewpoints Provides opinions and other information on hundreds of today’s hottest social issues. Includes continuously updated viewpoint articles, topic overviews, full-text magazines, academic journals, news articles, primary source documents, statistics, images, videos, audio files and links to vetted websites.

How to evaluate a source:

Figuring out whether the information you find is credible enough for college research can be challenging. Use the P.R.O.V.E.N. Test for Evaluating Sources to determine whether the sources you find are credible:

  • Purpose: The reason the information exists

    Is the purpose to sell, to entertain, to inform, to teach, or to persuade? Do the authors and publishers/sponsors make their purposes clear? Is this source designed for general readers or academic readers?

  • Relevance: The importance of the information for your needs

    Does it relate to your topic? Does it meet the requirements of your assignment? Is it too basic or too advanced?

  • Objectivity: The reasonableness of the information

    Is it fact or opinion? Is it biased? Do the authors use strong or emotional language, or leave out important facts or alternative perspectives?

  • Verifiability: The truthfulness and accuracy of the information

    Where does the information come from? Can you verify it in other sources? Are there citations or links to other sources? What do experts say about the topic?

  • Expertise: The source of the information

    Who are the authors, publishers, or sponsors of the information? Are they experts, or has the information been reviewed by experts? Is it posted on a personal website or blog?

  • Newness: The timeliness of the information

    When was the information published or posted? Is it up to date? Is your topic in an area that requires current information (such as technology or current events), or will older sources work as well?

Saving Your Sources

Below you will find 3 tips for keeping track of the sources you find in your search:

1.) Print Sources: If you find a print book in the library, write down the call number of the book. The call number acts as the address for the book on the shelf.
Call Number in Library Catalog

permalink2.) Online Sources: Whenever possible, find a permalink for the ebook, article, or other online source. A permalink is a stable URL that will take you back to the detailed information about the source (often connecting you to the full text).

If you select the full URL in the browser window, the link will not work later! You must use the permalink to connect back to sources you found online through the library catalog or library databases.

3.) Using Citation Generators: The library catalog and many of our library databases have built in citation generators. You can use these generators to copy and paste full citations into a Microsoft Word or Google Document.


Citation generators often have errors – even the ones in our library catalog and databases! So, while they are good to use for saving information about your source, you will have to check them with a librarian or a citation style guide before submitting these citations for your final paper!


Use the following links to help you create citations using MLA Style!

MLA just released the 8th edition of their style guide. You can choose to use the 7th or 8th edition. But, whichever one you choose, be consistent!

MLA 7th MLA 8th
Lonestar College MLA Guide MLA Style Center for 8th Edition
Camosun College Guide – MLA General Overview – Purdue Owl