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English Capstone

Start with Reflection and Brainstorming

Before you proceed, work through Steps 1 - 4 on the Starting Your Research guide.

For your capstone research, it will benefit you to do some reflection about your topic and what types of sources you are looking for before you go any further.

Here is an example of reflective thinking and brainstorming on a literary topic

Example ENG Topic: How do the phobias and mental illnesses of characters in White Noise and Infinite Jest reflect the ‘dark side’ of late 20th-century American political dominance, consumer capitalism, and the rise of technology?

Example WRI Topic: Are the phobias and mental illnesses of characters in White Noise and Infinite Jest handled accurately and ethically? What constitutes an ethical representation of mental illness in fiction? Are the phobias and mental illnesses of my characters accurate and ethical?


Primary Text(s):

  • White Noise by Don Delillo
  • Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

Sub-questions about the topic or other questions that will need to be addressed in the paper:

  • How were these books received (by critics and the public)
  • How is mental illness used as a characterization in these examples? How has it been used throughout literary history (Back to King Lear? Earlier?)
  • Has Marx's theory of Alienation been adapted to better reflect the consumer-based capitalism of the late 20th century?
  • When were these books written? What political events or technological advancements were happening at the time?
  • How would you define “ethical representation”?
  • How “accurate” does the representation need to be? When might it be okay to present only some aspects of a phobia or mental illness (or is it ever okay)?

Create a list of characters and corresponding illnesses.

Learn more about specific mental illnesses and phobias. Research both the medical/neurological/psychological aspects and their representations in literature.

Where does each of the characters listed fit within the illnesses and phobias researched?

What types of sources are needed? What would be ‘good to have’? (List as many as possible, even if you're not sure whether they exist):

  • Letters or journal entries by DD and DFW
  • Articles that were previously written about mental illness and phobias in either work or in other works by the same authors
  • Contemporary book reviews
  • Critical essays on both of these books
  • Articles/books about mental illness in literature
  • Psychological articles/books about the specific mental illness and phobias I'm looking at
  • Essays by DD and DFW on their personal beliefs about American politics, consumerism, and technology
  • History articles about the '80s and/or about the history of technology in society
  • Political science articles about 20th-century American imperialism?
  • Critical essays about the ethics or accuracy of the representation of mental illness in either work, other works by the same authors, or other works contemporary to White Noise and Infinite Jest.

Who are the top scholars on these authors and what have they written?

Move to Exploratory Searching

Exploratory Searching: Looking for background information in order to generate a list of topics, subtopics, questions, and keywords

Google: Ok to use at the very beginning of your research.  Check out these tips for a more effective Google search.

Credo: A collection of encyclopedias with background information on works, authors, characters, time periods, historical figures, and so much more!

Gale Literature Criticism Online: The Topic Finder can help you get a sense of what words, phrases, works, other topics, or subtopics are related to your topic.

WISE: You don't have to check out or read every book or article you find in WISE, but it will help you to get an idea of how much (or how little) is available on a topic.


When you have a firm grasp on the background information for your topic and a long list of possible search terms - it's time to see what the library has to offer! (Go ahead and check out the Library Resources tab on the left menu)