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English Composition 1 and 2 - Greensburg Campus

This guide will assist undergraduate students in conducting research for general, argumentative or persuasive papers.

Finding Background Information

Chances are that you are not yet an expert on your topic.  This means you probably aren't sure how to begin searching for books and articles yet.  No worries!  Pitt has several online reference products that you can use to get more information before you start the nitty-gritty research.  You can access these products from on- and off-campus.

If you are writing a persuasive or argumentative paper or speech, Points of View Reference Center and CQ Researcher will be especially helpful. These resources not only provide a broad overview of a topic, but they also present both sides of the arguments.  When you are constructing your argument, you will need to know what the opposing argument is in order to discredit it.  This is an important, yet often overlooked, part of writing persuasive and argumentative papers!

Video by NC State University Libraries

Selecting Keywords

The search terms or keywords you use to search are what determine the results you get.  Here's a good exercise to help you generate keywords:

1. Express your topic in a topic sentence: “What is the effect of television violence on children?”

2. Generate keyword search terms by identifying the main ideas or concepts within that topic sentence:  “What is the effect of television violence on children?” = Effect, Television, Violence, or Television violence and Children

3. Expand your search terms by brainstorming related terms or synonyms that describe your main ideas:

  • Television; media, TV,
  • Violence; aggression,
  • Effect; influence,
  • Children; toddlers, youngsters, boys, girls


Tip: Keep in mind that keywords are tricky, they will evolve and you'll likely come across better ones as you begin searching. The more you search and learn about your topic, the easier it will be to develop keywords.

For more practice, watch this video from the University of Houston Libraries to learn more about this process.