Africology & African American Studies

Welcome to this EMU Library guide

Welcome!   Use this guide to gain confidence and skill in library research. 

Jump into research and skip the usual beginners' mistakes by looking at the suggestions for research process. Master basic search tools like Esearch or other tools by choosing the "how to" boxes throughout this guide.

No guide can cover all your questions, so reinforce your confidence by learning how and where you can get more help from the Library.

Ace the Assignment

Success tip:  don’t just read the assignment, analyze it!

Professors expect students to follow directions carefully, but what do they actually mean by those directions? Figure out what an assignment is really asking, and you have the key to a successful paper.

Selecting a Topic

Choosing a topic is easy for experts, because they are already involved in the problems and ideas of their discipline.  It is more difficult for beginners.  Take the time to select a topic!  Many students will say that the biggest mistake they made in a paper assignment was to settle on a topic too quickly.

How to choose a topic:

  1. Consider the lectures and readings in your other courses.  Did something come up that you would like to know more about?
  2. Talk to experienced students about your interests and studies.
  3. Read "mainstream" (white dominant) newspapers and magazines such as:  New York Times (or the NYT Learning Network), New Yorker, The Atlantic as well as afrocentric media or websites.
  4. Explore reference books and databases.

Once you have some general ideas, it is time to focus.  In order to write a coherent paper, you must focus or sharpen your topic by exploring different aspects and problems, or by addressing a question. 

How to focus:

  1. List your questions.  For example, if your topic is "low black enrollment at four-year institutions"  - ask, what about it? What's the evidence that it is happening? What is the impact or effect on what communities or factors? Can you identify some causes or explanations? What is the popular, scholarly or creative discourse about it?
  2. Read to learn.  Later you will be reading for research, but start with reading to get an overview or outline of your topic.  Good places for this kind of reading might include popular media, reference articles or book chapters that give overviews of the topic.

Even when you have focused your topic, you are still not quite done with this phase.  Now it's time to make sure you have something that is not too general and also not too narrow. 

How to check the focus:

  1. Make sure your topic has something in it that will allow you to compare, contrast, analyze, derive meaning or argue.
  2. A research paper is not an opinion paper. If you are arguing that something is good or bad, or it should or shouldn't be done or exist, you're not focused yet.
  3. A research paper is not only a report.  If you are only reporting or repeating information, then you do not have a good focus.
  4. If there is too much information, then limit to one particular problem, place, time or other aspect. For example, if "low black enrollment at four-year institutions" has too much information, consider one state, or one time period, or only first generation college students, or similar.
  5. Sometimes people get stuck with overly narrow questions (such as "autism among Black male college students in Michigan") It is possible that research has not been done and you will find no information on exactly your topic.  If this happens, then broaden to question to a wider area or more general problem.

Only when you have focused are you ready to start exploring and searching for information with your questions in mind.

More help?  You might like these pages:

Social Sciences Librarian

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Suzanne Gray
100 F Halle Library

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