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Also gets general background info (like Wikipedia) on topic

Thesis Statements

The CPCC Library will not be offering classroom instruction on developing a thesis statement. We have found individual student conferences to be more beneficial. Our classroom time will be focused on database research.

We have tested a variety of topic development activities. However, this is only the beginning of the research/thesis process, and they will go hand-in-hand throughout the length of the assignment.

Topics by Discipline - Developed by Rebecca Fagan

Issue Ideas

As you start thinking about what issue you want to use for our papers this semester, I want to encourage you to first look towards your discipline. There are issues within all career fields, and I want you to write about an issue you find interesting and that is related to your future career (see the first table below, Fig. A, for examples). If you have not yet decided on a major, you can look into any special interests you may have because many issues work for our purposes this semester (see Fig. B for examples). Finally, you can also go the route of choosing issues you see in the news, but you need to very careful to stay away from broad, mundane topics (see Fig. C for examples).

Fig. A

Student’s Discipline / Career


(Annotated Bib)


(Investigative Report)




Money spent on making movies in various countries

How movies are advertised in the U.S. and how that affects the average moviegoer

N.C. needs to bring back incentives for the film industry to help our economy.


What issues do nurses face in other countries

Nursing shortage in the U.S.

N.C. must offer more nursing programs to combat the shortage


How are teachers viewed on a global scale?

Inability to retain teachers across the U.S.

N.C. can retain teachers through mentoring programs and bonus pay

criminal justice

What are the various types of terrorism across the globe?

What is domestic terrorism and who commits it?

The Real I.D. law in N.C. will help combat domestic terrorism.


What are the various forms of bank fraud around the world?

How are people in the U.S. victims to credit card fraud?

N.C. business laws should hold companies accountable when banking data is breached.

Fig. B

Special interests


(Annotated Bib)


(Investigative Report)




Fast fashion on a global scale

#chooseused movement or minimalist movement in the U.S.

N.C. citizens should choose local fashion and/or consignment

Essential oils

Religious and cultural uses of oils throughout the world

Mindfulness movement or alternative healthcare in the U.S.

The essential oil industry positively impacts the N.C. economy.

Natural hair

Cultural hair customs around the world

Natural hair and professionalism, social/cultural norms in the US

More cosmetology programs incorporate natural hair practices/education

Fig. C

Research this…(good issues)

Not that (broad, bad topics)

  • The link between poverty and high rates of obesity
  • Food deserts
  • Generation or cyclical poverty


  • The issue of affordable housing
  • Chronic homelessness
  • Use of tiny homes to combat homelessness
  • Veterans who are homeless


  • Sustainable agriculture
  • Corporate accountability in agriculture
  • Alternative/organic pest control


  • Recycling everyday objects
  • Local water supply pollution
  • Plastic pollution in oceans


Brainstorming, Narrowing, Thesis and Keyword Development Activity

Contact Librarian: Abby Rovner (see Libguide)

Time Needed: Full session

Description: This is a complete lesson plan with brainstorming (bubbles) for topic development and keywords for an argumentative or informative paper for ENG 111. 

In this exercise, the worksheets could be assessed in class for ability to follow the example and understand how to narrow down a topic, and also allows for in class feedback.

There is also an "exit ticket" where students write down their keywords and a citation for a source they found, to be handed in before they leave the classroom. The student has the option to write their name and ID# for feedback if they want.

Creating a Research Question Activity

File Needed

Amount of Time: 60 minutes
Supplies Needed: handout

Citation:  Burkhardt, J.M., MacDonald, M. C., & Rathemacher, A.J.  (2010).  Teaching Information Literacy: 50 Standards-Based Exercises for College Students, 2nd ed (pp. 27-31).  Chicago, IL: ALA Editions.  

Description: The goal of this activity is to help students to develop open-ended research questions that will give meaning to a topic. Pick a topic to demonstrate question development and lead students to create a research question (path: topic, subtopic, issue or problem, and question).  The chart handout on p. 31 illustrates how to restrict and narrow topics. (text of the handout is below- also it is attached in a word doc)

Creating a Research Question:

The table below illustrates how a research question develops from a broad topic to a focused question.  Follow the four examples down the columns to see how the questions develop.  Then use the blank form provided below to develop your own research question.

Broad Topic

Restricted Topic

Narrowed Topic

Research Question


Acid rain

Acid rain in the US

What can the US do to prevent acid rain?


Commercial fishing

Fishing regulations and New England

What impact do fishing regulations have on commercial fishing in New England?



Internet and China

How will China’s effort to censor the Internet affect its citizens?




What nutritional benefits are there to vegetarianism?

Now try out your topic ide.  It is useful to work out several variations of the topic to see how it could change slightly and be improved or amended.

What type of question did you come up with?

        Cause and effect

 Does the research question meet these criteria?

       It is open-ended (cannot be answered with simple yes or no)
       It addresses an issue or controversy and/or solves a problem
       It is something that you can take a stand on

ACRL Info Lit Standard:  1.1, 3.3, 4.1

In this exercise, the sheets themselves could be assessed for ability to follow the example and understand how to narrow down a topic.

Otherwise, a poll could be developed to reinforce the procedure.


The topic is police power. What represents a narrowed topic?

- Should police in Charlotte, NC use body cameras?

- Are police officers in Malaysia too powerful?

- What is injustice in the United States?

- Does corporal punishment in schools prevent disprutive behavior?

Thinking in Circles Activity

Time: 20 minutes

Tools: Worksheet (attached below), one for each student.

Plan: First, poll the audience for an example topic.  Example: "raw milk"

How does this topic work in different spheres of our lives (local, state, national, world)?  

  • Universe -  example (not each section will apply)
  • World - Raw milk and world hunger
  • Country - Raw milk and u.s. law
  • City/State - Raw milk legislation in north carolina
  • School - Raw milk and cafeterias
  • Home - Families and raw milk
  • You - What you like about drinking raw milk

Once you've gone through the example together, students can work on their own sheets. 

Thinking in Circles worksheet.

Papers on the Wall Activity

Amount of Time: 15-20 min
Supplies Needed: Poster paper, tape, markers (4), a wall! (whiteboards will work well too)


  • Put large papers on the wall
  • Demo first on whiteboard: pick an example topic and write it in the center of a circle. Have students suggest related keywords.
  • Divide students into groups - have each group decide on a topic- or librarian can supply various topics for each group- and have them work at one paper generating keywords and topic extensions for the group's chosen topic.
  • For added "difficulty" the student groups could rotate to the different topics.

Example topics to use: Alternative Medicine, Gay Marriage, Obesity, Organic Farming

Tips: **this activity is useful for when students don't already have a topic**

For classes that do have a topic, try the Exquisite Corpse exercise.

Intelligence Squared Activity

Title: Intelligence Squared
Contact librarian: Mark Coltrain
Amount of Time: variable- see description

Supplies Needed: Intelligence Squared Website: http://intelligencesquaredus.org/index.php/past-debates/, handout (attached)

Background: Intelligence Squared U.S. is a weekly debate program broadcast on NPR that dovetails nicely with assignments in CP’s ENG 112 and COM 231 classes. The show’s website features audio and video of all past debates plus healthy amounts of research on each debate topic. The IQ2 website is a good place to point students who don’t already have topics, to find supplemental research for those researching topics related to past debates and it can provide excellent material for ENG 112 library instruction classes…

Before class: I chose a debate and previewed it for content and relevance though I think most any debate will do. (Each side has a 7-minute introduction that lays the groundwork for their respective arguments.) Showing the intro from each side of the debate topic works nicely to get students thinking about pros/cons, keywords and argument styles. I chose the “Organic Food is Marketing Hype” debate. For the sake of time, I skipped the show’s introduction and the host’s intro for each speaker and had two tabs open in my Internet browser. Each tab had the clip cued to the exact moment the respective speaker started their remarks. I was able to give simplified explanations of the show, the debate topic and speaker intro myself.

During class:

15 minutes: After the class intro, I set up the show and played roughly 6-7 minutes of each side’s opening remarks. After that, I asked the students what they thought of each person’s style, how they presented arguments, the arguments themselves etc. Were they persuaded one way or the other?

5-6 minutes: Then I told the students to pretend for a moment that ‘Organic Food is Marketing Hype’ is the topic they’re researching. I wrote the topic on the white board and asked them to give me some ideas of words I might use to start my research based on the video clips they just saw. I wrote several suggestions on the board and pointed out that these are called keywords and each topic carries its own unique set. Having a robust list of keywords will result in good results when searching.

15-20 minutes: Now it’s their turn. I paired them up and gave a random topic (from the IQ2 website) to each pair (see attached documents for examples). One person takes the pro argument and one person takes the con. Using the library’s databases (suggested 2-3 and showed them how to get to the databases), each side has to find one article to back their argument up and fill out the form reflecting what they found. I made myself available to answer questions while they searched. After the exercise, I asked them if they encountered any problems or had any difficulties as they searched. I asked them what they liked about the process and the databases, as well.