Writing Guides: Getting Started

Steps to Define the Question

Defining the topic: 

  • Identify the broad topic
  • Do a little background research
  • Identify the types of sources you need
  • Develop a research timeline
  • Create a basic mind map
  • Set up for notecards
  • Expand your search into the other sources

Different Types of Sources

What are some types of sources?

  • Encyclopedias and other references
  • Books (eBooks and print)
  • Articles (journals and magazines)
  • Newspapers
  • Databases
  • Websites (be careful with these)
  • Audiovisual (radio, video, photos)

Why Make a Research Timeline?

  • Helps you keep on track
  • Identifies your deadlines
  • Breaks the project down into steps
    • Gather sources by <date>
    • Complete research by <date>
    • Organize data by <date>
    • Finish outline by <date>
    • Finish first draft by <date>
    • Finish final draft by <date>

Choosing Keywords

Before you actually begin looking for information, especially online, it's a good idea to develop some keywords to pinpoint the information that you really want. A search that is too broad will retrieve far too many possible resources, and many of them will not be what you need. You will save time by planning your search.

Choosing Good Keywords

  • Use the words from your mindmap.
  • Use the headings or bolded words from your textbooks.
  • Use our class notes. What words did your instructor emphasize?
  • Use a thesaurus to discover other possible words.

Identifying the Broad Topic

  • Your instructor may have a list of topics - which one appeals to you?
  • Look in the table of contents of your textbook for chapter headings that might provide interesting topics.
  • What has been something you've learned in class that you want to know more about?
  • Check the Opposing Viewpoints database
  • Bring your own interests, hobbies, etc. into the question if you can

Pick a topic that interests you. It makes the research more interesting.

Mind Maps

How to Create a Mind Map

Mind maps are great tools to help you organize information. Use them as you are getting started to brainstorm different possible topics discovered after gathering background information. They'll help you to generate keywords to search later. You can also use them when taking notes on things you read. 



"Bubbl.us makes it easy to organize your ideas visually in a way that makes sense to you and others. Our editor is designed to help you stay on task and capture your thoughts quickly."

"Capture ideas at the speed of thought – using a mind map maker designed to help you focus on your ideas and remove all the distractions while mindmapping."

Note Taking

Note taking is critically important to writing good papers.

So, how do you take good notes? You choose the most important words or ideas from a passage, article or chapter, and write them down. You can use a mindmap, notecards (3x5 or 4x6), the Cornell note technique, or even a special notebook. The most important thing is to keep your notes organized so that you remember the sources you used. 

One way to do this is to use 4x6 note cards. They may be old fashioned, but using them keeps research both organized and moveable (and reusable) from paper to paper. 

Setting up your note card system can be very easy. Each source from which you take notes should have its own bibliography card (Example A). Put it into proper APA format, and give it a number. The finished reference card will look something like this: