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English 101: Controversial Issues Paper: Research Paper Process Guide


Choose your topic

Can't think of a topic? 

  • What aspects of your research assignment are you interested in?
  • What time period of geographic area are you interested in?
  • What do you already know about the topic?
Some tips to consider:
  • Be sure to pick something that genuinely interests you.
  • Ask your instructor, a librarian, or even a classmate for advice or feedback on paper topic ideas.
  • Finally, once you've settled on something you want to work on, try to express it as a question. 
General Reference Resources

Browsing a general reference resource on some subjects areas that interest you might give you some good ideas. 

Current events

Read through current newspapers and see what is happening in the news that interests you.

A few "Hot Topic" sources

Here are a few places that outline many important social issues.

Keywords and Subjects

Need help finding the right search terms to help you broaden or narrow your search? 

Do your research

Gather information to support your argument

Now that you know what you're writing about, you need to gather your research. This includes your topic's background, current events, data and statistics, and expert opinion and analysis. For this, there are a variety of different resources we like:


This is where you wrap your head around your topic. Look here to find topic overviews; definitions; and to get a general sense of important events, people, and key concepts.


Here are some place to look for information to understand what how your topic is understood within a bigger picture. This might include: current events, historical context, cultural attitudes, literary themes, scientific perspectives, or political controversies.


Here's where you find information about your topic's bigger impact, how this is an issue that affects something larger and is meaningful in a broad way. This typically means statistics, but might also mean finding many examples from other sources to support your observations.

Credible Support and Analysis

Because you are making a claim, you need to lean on the credibility of scholars or experts to help support and ground your argument. Here are a number of databases to find peer-reviewed articles on many topics from a variety of subject areas:

Best Bet! Controversial Issues Databases

For a deeper investigation into your topics, books are always going to be helpful.

All Library Databases

Search the Library Catalog

Primo is our main search function. Go here to see all of our books, articles, and more.

Research Process Overview

Looking for help using TCTC Library Resources? 

Have a specific question?

This guide was developed with the Johnson & Wales University Denver Library and is used with permission.

A little more about print titles and the library catalog

Using the library catalog

Using the catalog isn't difficult, but it can be a little tricky.

The materials in the Tri-County Technical College Library are organized so that materials on similar subjects are shelved together. We use the Library of Congress classification system to organize our books. It is used by most research and academic libraries in the United States.

How to find books using the Library of Congress Classification system 

Each item is given a subject heading that corresponds to a call number which identifies the location of the item on a shelf. 

Items are arranged on the shelves from left to right, top to bottom, according to call numbers. Call numbers are read in this format:

Search Strategies


The keywords you use can have a profound impact on the results of your research. Using the “right” words will speed up the research process, while the “wrong” words can bring to it to a halt.

Before you can begin searching for information, you need to identify keywords related to your topic.

  • Use a thesaurus to identify synonyms.
  • Find pictures related to your topic, then describe them.
  • Brainstorm keywords with a librarian, your instructor, or a friend.
  • Use a keyword generator.

Limiting Searches

It is common for an initial search to return an overwhelming number of results. Refining the results allows you to identify exactly the most relevant content.

Each database is a little different, but there are a few common ways to limit your search:

  • "Show only"
    • Limit your search to include only specific kinds of things. These often include:
      • Peer-Reviewed Journals
      • Full Text Online 
  • "Refine my results"
    • Often in a database there is a toolbar which will give you a number of easy ways to narrow down (or “refine”) your results. Your options will differ depending on the database, but there are some common choices:
      • Resource type (i.e. Journals, Magazines, Reviews, Critical Essays, Books, Topic Overviews)
      • Subject: Depending upon the search, this section lists various standard subject categories and allows the results to be limited to the chosen subject.
      • Publication year
      • Publisher
      • Date: This section allows you to limit the results to items created in particular time periods.You can type dates into the boxes or sometimes there will be a date slider to determine your date search range.
    • Often, there will be a “More options” choice--it might be designated by a plus (+) sign--where you will find a full list of available search-refining options; only the most first few will be initially visible. 
  • Combining and clearing refinements

After you have chosen one refinement, it is possible to continue to choose additional refinements. The results list will then show only results that meet the criteria for all the selected refinements. In most databases the selected refinements are displayed at the top of the results list. To remove a refinement, you will click on the X near its box. Doing so will start a new search without that refinement.

  • Sorting Results

Your results are sorted by what the database thinks is most relevant to your search. But there are almost always other ways to sort your results. Some of the various sort methods include: 

  • Relevance: This tends to be the default sorting method.
  • Date: By either newest or oldest
  • Author: Alphabetically, by either A-Z or Z-A
  • Title: Alphabetically, by either A-Z or Z-A
  • A few special things:

All databases have their own unique features for doing typical search procedures that are worth using to help limit your results. Some of these include:

  • Search within results
  • Search history
  • Related articles and links.

Citation information

This guide will help you with the following: