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CAL 103: Writing and Communication

This guide will help CAL 103 students get started with their research.

Concept Mapping

Making a concept map is a good way to visualize the connections your mind makes between concepts and ideas. When working to develop a research question, concept mapping helps organize your thoughts and can lead you to identify ideas that can make for a solid research paper.

An image of a concept map on masculinity in movies that Vicky created based on a paper she wrote in grad school

Click image to enlarge
This concept map was based on a paper I wrote for a class in grad school some years ago, and it explains my thought process in how I came to focus on a topic based on the larger subject in which I was interested. A transcription is available at the link below.



Which of these might apply to your topic?

  • Synonyms
  • Related topics
  • Time period
  • Technical terms
  • People
  • Geographical locations

There are no wrong answers! This is the phase of researching when you can let your mind go wherever it wants to.

Narrow Your Focus

Now that you have created your concept map, there should be one or two aspects of your topic that seem both interesting and able to be turned into a workable question. Narrow your focus: you know what you're going for; now put it in the form of a question.

Based on the concept map above, your process might look like this:

Main topic: Masculinity and performativity
Narrow: Cultural interpretations
Narrower: Portrayals of masculinity in movies
Focused topic: Masculinity as portrayed in the "Rambo" series and "Falling Down"
Research Question: How was the concept of masculinity performed in the "Rambo" series and "Falling Down"? What did these portrayals reveal about the expectations of masculinity in certain settings?


Your question can be:
  • Comparison
  • Cause and effect
  • Process
and it MUST:
  • Be open-ended (not answered by yes or no)
  • Address an issue or controversy and/or solve a problem
  • Be something you can take a stand on