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Arts in Cultural Context: RUS 0871

Research help for the course, RUS 0871: Arts in Cultural Context.

Understand the Assignment

someone writing a to-do listBefore choosing a topic, make sure you understand your assignment. Read your assignment and look for:

  • Due Date
  • Length of the assignment
  • Number and type(s) of outside sources
  • Topic guidance
  • Points your instructor wants you to cover

Make sure you understand your assignment’s purpose. Are you supposed to take a side in an existing argument, explain a problem, propose a position, describe a project or process, or do something else?

If you find that you cannot describe what your assignment is about to someone else, either read it again or ask your instructor for clarification.

Choose a Topic

road sign Choosing an interesting research topic can be hard. Where can you turn to for ideas?​

  • Look through your syllabus or assigned readings for themes, concepts, or ideas that interest you -- even if you haven't covered them in class yet.
  • Meet with your professor. They can help you generate, develop, and provide examples of suitable topics. 
  • Chat with your classmates. What are they considering? Brainstorm together to generate ideas and decide what interests you. 
  • Consider what you are studying in other classes. Are there ways to connect ideas with another class?
  • Browse! Look at current events stories published in the news.
  • Brainstorm! Create a mind map of ideas, subjects, and questions you have about the topic (see 'Visualize Your Topic' section).

Most importantly, think about topics that interest you.

Explore Your Topic

individual standing atop mountain peak, gazing forwardBefore you develop your research topic or question, you'll need to do some background research first.

Some good places to find background information:

  • Your textbook or class readings
  • Encyclopedias or overviews
  • Credible websites
  • Library databases

Try the library databases below to explore your topic. They contain many different kinds of encyclopedias and dictionaries and are excellent starting points for getting an overview on your topic as well as possible search terms to use later. Try them. See other examples listed on the Get Background Info tab. When you're ready, move on to focusing your topic.

Find Background Information:

Focus Your Topic

hands holding a pair of glasses, focused on ships at seaNow that you've done some background research, it's time to focus your topic. Here are some suggestions for narrowing and defining your topic:

  • Is there a specific subset of the topic you can focus on?
  • Is there a cause and effect relationship you can explore?
  • Is there an unanswered question on the subject?
  • Can you focus on a specific time period, geographic location, or group of people?

Applying the 5 W's -- who, what, when, where, why, and how -- to your topic can also help you begin to find a more focused issue within that topic that will work well for your assignment.

Describe and develop your topic in some detail. Try filling in the blanks in the following statements from Wayne Booth's The Craft of Argument so you can move from a big, broad topic to one that is interesting and manageable:

I am working on the topic of ___________

because I want to find out who / what / when / where / why / how_____________

in order to help my reader better understand ______________.

Visualize Your Topic

Try visualizing your topic to explore all of the different angles, ideas, and key concepts related to your topic. This is a good brainstorming exercise and can also help focus your topic into a research question.

The tools below can help you visualize your topic.

Videos on Choosing a Topic

Choosing a Research Topic

Developing a Research Question

(Doing) Background Research