Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

English LibGuide for HWC: Megan Ritt

Welcome to the Library Guide for Eng 101/097 - Professor Ritt


This guide will help students compose their English 101/97 I-Search Assignment.    

An I-Search paper is a personal paper about a topic that is important to the writer. Though it involves research, an I-Search paper is usually less formal than a traditional research paper. It tells the story of the writer's personal search for information, as well as what the writer learned about the topic. To complete this assignment, follow the steps below. Make sure you check out all the tabs in the Research Process box!

Grab Your Readers' Attention

Your readers are more likely to care about your topic if you begin with an attention-getting opener. Help them understand why it was important for you to find out more about the topic.

Tell what you wanted to learn and why.

 Explain why the topic is important to you, and let readers know what motivated your search.

The I-Search Research Process

When someone starts a research assignment, a typical mistake is to think too broadly about it. This is usually born out of having an interest in a subject but a limited understanding of everything that subject could encompass. For instance, if you wanted to write a paper about global warming, you might do a search for that term in the databases and find yourself overwhelmed by all the information. If you tried to write about all of the information such a broad search would turn up, you would soon find yourself with a book-length manuscript. Since your assignments are likely to be measured in pages instead of chapters, you will want to narrow your topic down as much as possible. Here are some methods for narrowing your topic:

Ask Questions

One approach is to ask questions about your topic to narrow it down: Think, “Who, what, when, where, and how?”


Question: Who are the prominent researchers in the study of global warming?

Possible Answers: Keywan Riahi, James E Hansen, Mario Herrero, or Ove I Hoegh-Guldberg.


Question: What are the main causes of global warming?

Possible Answers: power generation, manufacturing and transport, or deforestation. 


Question: When were the major milestones in our knowledge of global warming?

Possible Answers: The industrial revolution, the age of computer modeling, the use of satellites to gather climate data, the advent of ice-core and deep-sea core analysis.


Bring Yourself into the Paper

Another approach is to take the assigned topic of "global warming" and then try to find out it connects with something you are personally interested. Depending on your personal interests, you might choose possible subtopics such as:

How can businesses benefit by going green?

How does meat consumption impact climate and ecology?

How could concert venues become more ecologically friendly?

How could global warming impact poor neighborhoods in Chicago?


 A thesis statement is what your paper intends to prove or show.  A research question is what you want to find out about your topic.


Reasons to start with a Research Question

Many of us have been taught that we should start with a thesis statement and then write the paper to back it up. But that is not the best approach. Instead of starting with a thesis statement, try starting with a research question. This is a good idea for two reasons.

The first reason is that starting with a thesis statement presupposes that you already know enough about your topic to have not only a well-informed opinion, but the most up-to-date and expert opinion possible on the matter. The vast majority of us don’t have that kind of knowledge about academic subjects, so research is required.

The second reason is that starting with a thesis statement builds your own biases into your search and limits your findings only to the ones you expected to find in the first place, which keeps you from learning important new things. Good research questions are unbiased, provable, and open-ended.

  • Unbiased means that you do not build what you want to prove into your research question. For instance, if you want to prove that global warming is not happening and do a search for "global warming is a fraud," you will find sources that say that, but you won't find sources that report that it is happening.
  • Provable means that there are data that support your claim (or that don't support your claim). Your paper can't be about an opinion!
  • Open-ended means that your research question is not just a yes or no question (ie.: Is global warming happening?) and will find information you can discuss at length (ie.: What are the cause of global warming? How will global warming impact Chicago?)


What are the effects of fossil fuels on global temperature?

How does global warming impact the oceans?

How does global warming effect the US economy?

Will global warming increase or decrease food security?


Step 1: Break your research question into just its keywords/key concepts.

What are the effects of fossil fuels on global temperature?

How does global warming impact the oceans?

How does global warming effect the US economy?

Will global warming increase or decrease food security?

These are all good research questions, but just typing them into the databases won't necessarily return many results. The databases work best with keywords/phrases.

Step 2: Write down the key concepts found in your topic sentence:

effects, fossil fuels, global temperature

Write 2 or 3 key concepts from your question. If your question contains more than three keywords, you might need to do multiple searches and synthesize the results.

Step 3: Find synonyms (or related words) for your concepts:

Synonyms of example concepts:

effects:  impact, outcomes, influence

fossil fuels: gasoline, oil, oil industry

global temperature: global warming, climate change

Step 4:  Connect your search terms with Boolean Operators

And narrows your search:

A search for global warming and oil industry and impact

will retrieve only articles about all three concepts.

Or broadens your search:

A search for global warming or oil industry or impact

will retrieve all articles about any of the three concepts.


A simple but effective search for this topic:

global warming AND oil industry AND impact

Step 5: More complicated searches might require parenthesis and multiple Boolean operators.

(global warming OR climate change Or global temperatures) AND (oil OR gasoline OR oil industry) AND (impact OR effect)


This search connects the synonyms and related concepts with OR and connects the different concepts with AND, thus doing a broad search for articles that must contain certain specific ideas. 

The Open Internet

The open internet may be a good place to start your research, but it is rarely the best place to end it. 

Searching on the open internet can give you an overwhelming number of results. To help filter out as much extraneous or useless information as possible, try nesting your terms with parenthesis and limiting results only to academic sites or government.

Nesting you terms helps you keep like ideas together:

(causes OR reasons) AND (global warming)

will retrieve any webpage that contains either the word causes or the word reasons but only if it also contain the phrase global warming.

To specify that you only want to retrieve education or government sites, you can add this string to your search:


Search DuckDuckGo.

This search will retrieve articles about your topic limited to certain domains. Read the results and take note of people, organizations, or events that you want to study further.  You can search for those words in the HWC databases for more information.


HWC Databases

For general information, search for your terms in encyclopedias and general reference resources.  

For more specific information, search for your terms in academic journals, magazines, and newspapers.

We all have opinions about how things ought to be, but research is more than simply finding sources that agree with us. Research strives to find accurate, up-to-date sources, whether they agree with our preconceived notions or not!  As a general rule, people will very readily accept information they agree with and be very skeptical of information they disagree with. In order to compensate for this quirk of human nature, it is a good idea to get in the habit of evaluating all of the information you encounter for three basic things: objectivity, timeliness, and accuracy.

Objectivity means the tone of the article is neutral, and facts are presented without words that are meant to stir emotions. The source cites other sources that both agree and disagree. Rebuttals are made with evidence, not personal attacks.

Timeliness means the source is relevant to the time period under study. 

Accuracy means the source is in broad agreement with other sources written by experts in the field and/or provides clear, documented, verifiable evidence for its position.

To read (much!) more about this topic, check out the links below:

Recognizing Our Own Biases

Politics and Information

News Media and Bias

Different Kinds of Bias in Reporting

Before you can take a definitive stand on an issue, you need to be well informed about it! 

After you have completed your research and read the articles you retrieved, you can write your thesis statement simply by answering your research question with the information that you have discovered.

What are the causes of binge drinking among college students?

May become:

The causes of binge drinking among college students are socialization, stress, and the institutional promotion of drinking culture.

Typically, academic work requires either MLA or APA citation style. Generally, MLA is expected in humanities and English, while APA is expected in social sciences work. Your instructor should clearly inform the class which citation style she prefers. If there is any doubt, ask. For your English 102 class, you will be using MLA citations.

Citations contain the information necessary for your reader (instructor) to understand what the information source was and where you located it. Citations will always contain two parts, an in-text citation that is directly connected to the information you are incorporating from the source material, and a longer citation that will be located on your Works Cited page and contains all possible details about the source material.

For more information constructing citations and for examples of citations for various types of sources (articles, books, websites, images, etc.), please see the following resources:


The Purdue OWL site offers the MLA style guide online for free.


Retrace Your Steps

Tell readers about your sources - how you found them and why you used them.