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English 101 - Cat Pleska: Outlining Your Essay


 Plan Your Research

It is very easy to jump right into writing your paper, but librarians recommend that you take just a minute or two to organize your thoughts. This way, you will know exactly what you need, and you'll have a pretty good idea of how to do it. By following the outline below, you will feel more prepared during the research process, and subsequently feel more confident during the writing process. 


Research Plan

Part I: The Basics

1. Name of class

2. Name of professor

3. Due date for first draft

4. Due date for final draft

5. Citation style

6. Number and type of sources

Part II: Key Concepts, Search Terms, and Subject Areas

7. Write down your thesis statement (or the question you need to answer). 

Example: Fast food causes health risks in children.
Why is this important? We often start researching before we know exactly what we’re looking for. This will save you time, and will help you organize your thoughts.

Note: depending on the purpose of the assignment and your professor's stipulations, your thesis may change or evolve over the course of your research. If this happens, you must get your professor's approval before continuing.

8. Determine your key concepts and write them down. 

Example: fast food, health risks, children
Why is this important? When you have a clear view of your search terms, you can begin researching as soon as you sit down at the computer.

9. Write down 2-3 related terms for each of your key concepts. 

Example: takeout, McDonald’s, kids, boys, girls, diabetes, childhood obesity, high cholesterol
Why is this important? It is very common in the research process to not find enough results with the first search. So, it is useful to think of synonyms, broader terms, or more specific terms. If you're unsure, you can use the internet, a thesaurus, and/or dictionary. 

10. List any subject areas that might be related to your topic, and then choose one to focus on. 

Example: health science, exercise science, food science, sociology
Why is this important? Many topics cover broad subjects, so it’s important to narrow your focus depending on how long your paper should be and what your professor expects of you. Additionally, the library's Summon search engine allows you to narrow your search results based on subject areas and disciplines. Alternatively, if you need to expand your paper to include more areas of research, you will already have a list of subjects to look into. 

Part III: Advanced Searching

11. Next, look at the words you listed for numbers 7 and 8 above, and jot down a few sequences of search terms to try when searching in Summon or one of the library's many databases.

Keeping track of your search progress will allow you to rate the success of your search term combinations and determine if or when you should try new terms. 


Use AND to combine multiple terms:

  • health risks AND children AND fast food
  • diabetes AND fast food AND kids

Use OR to combine similar or related terms:

  • childhood obesity AND McDonalds OR fast food


Create Your Research Plan

Please download the above Research Plan and complete the steps. Then, use the document as a guide to keep your research on track and your assignment goals clear. You can also view the Research Plan on our GEO 100 guide without downloading any documents.