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AFAM 201:Methods in African American Studies: Getting Started


This page is intended as a starting point for sources and ideas in support of AFAM 201 research assignments.

Jacob Lawrence, The Migration Series

Photo Credit: Lori Ricigliano


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Peggy Burge's picture
Peggy Burge
Collins Library 119

Mind Mapping Your Topic

Choosing the right focus for a topic is also important! If your topic is too broad you will be overwhelmed with results and if your topic is too narrow you will have a hard time finding information.

One approach is to make a mind map. A mind map is a visual way of organizing your thoughts about a research idea.It’s a useful framework to help you fully think through a central idea and identify potential research topics which in turn can lead to a research question.

How to make a mind map

Mind maps are simple to create. There are a few basic steps. 

  1. Start by writing down your main idea at the center.
  2. Break down your main idea into topics. What are some different angles or approaches to this idea?
  3. Focus your topics  by narrowing them into subtopics using keywords or questions. Consider who, what, when, where questions.
  4. Use these subtopics to come up with a tentative question to research.


From Topic to Research Question

Once you've identified and explored your research topic, you'll need to work on refining your research question. A strong research question will allow you to delve into a genuine problem or question to which an answer is not obvious. In other words, you want a question that is debatable and arguable. In creating your own argument to answer the research question, you will use evidence from your research to acknowledge and refute any counterevidence that you encounter.

Characteristics of Strong Research Questions

  • typically ask “why?” or “how?” questions
  • have a clear focus
  • are feasible to answer with the resources and time available to you
  • are calibrated in scope to the required length of the writing assignment
  • are of interest or significance to others

And once you have your research question, the next step is to reformulate it as a thesis statement. The thesis statement answers your research question in such a way that it leads into the major points that you will make in your paper. 

The Research Process

Background Sources

Exploring your topic is an important step in the research process. Reading background information about a topic helps you learn important facts and become more familiar with the context and issues around your topic.

Try the following resources as starting points. Search broadly. Also try, searching multidisciplinary databases to help focus your topic.