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English Capstone: Day 1: Narrowing your topic and defining your search

What you have done, what you can do!

At this point it's okay to feel a bit unsure of what you're doing and how you'll manage to do it. Research is a process of inquiry and continued curiosity is an important part of that process!

At this point you have:

Read and summarized a recent capstone project. This has given you a sense of what you are working towards.

Generated a topic inventory and explored some possibilities with your topic descriptions. You have some ideas of what you would like to research and write about and you may have done some preliminary research on a few of your ideas.

Next you will be writing your topic narrative. To accomplish this task you will need to:

  • Choose ONE manageable, interesting, and original topic to explore further
  • Identify one primary text and author that you will use to explore your topic
  • Begin your research process using MLA and other library resources
  • Begin to understand and trace the scholarly conversation related to your topic
  • Generate questions that will guide your research
  • Plan for success by understanding your next steps

Tips for creating a good research question:

What you research (and eventually say) about your topic is driven by the research questions that you ask.

Ideally your research questions will be MICROS



Clear and Simple




You should be able to easily explain what your research question has to do with your assigned sub-topic, as well as the larger topic. Use a research question to focus your search initially, but don't be afraid to slightly alter it as your search progresses. Often what you are able to find/access will be part of what focuses your research. Flexibility is key!

Sometimes the best way to learn how to write a good research question is by seeing examples. If you're unsure, take this brief quiz by SUNY Empire

Exploratory Searching

Exploratory Searching: When you're getting a list of topics, subtopics, questions, and keywords

Google: (Only at the very beginning of your research and only when your prof isn't looking)

Credo: "A Wikipedia that might impress your professors" this collection of encyclopedias might just have what you're looking for.

Gale Literature Criticism Online Topic Finder: Looks cooler than it might be. If you're a visual person, this might help you get a sense of what's related to your topics

WISE: Hey, I like it to get a sense of what's out there. You don't have to get every book or read every article, but a few might just catch your fancy.

Plan and write it out

Working Topic:
Narrators may be the voice of the author, a character within the story, or something else entirely. Traditionally, both the author and the narrator are seen as voices of authority and the reader relies on both to understand the narrative. I’m interested in exploring works where the author is the narrator, and an unreliable one at that.

Primary Subject Work:
The People of Paper by Salvador Plascencia
Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Three research questions:

  • How does the relationship between author, narrator, and reader change when the author is self-admittedly unreliable.?
  • How does this differ from an autobiographical novel? How does the device used shape the narrative?
  •  What sorts of stories are told when the author is the narrator and a character? What impact does “unreliable author” have on the story itself as opposed to using a surrogate?

Words and synonyms to search:

unreliable narrator   self-insertion author surrogate metafiction
autobiographical novel modernism author as narrator postmodernism