Skip to Main Content

FREN 4120: Changing the World (Murphy): Research Process

Research Topic

Your topic should facilitate a critical approach that integrates some of the theories covered in your course.

Your research topic may be born through different channels:

  • Read your syllabus carefully and pay attention to a topic covered in class that you found interesting and that you do not know much about it.
    • You may choose a topic that is related to the central theme of the course and is of interest to you.
  • Expand on a subject that is highlighted in one of the texts you read about social and political activism and that you found relevant.
  • Cover a topic (from your own optic) that was suggested in one of the books or articles you read.
  • Browse online media to gather topic ideas.
  • Browse background sources to gather topic ideas.
Sometimes topics change as you move forward in your research process and this is normal.

Research Question

Your research question will be related to your topic. This question usually answers a matter that has not been covered by previous scholarship.

Developing Research Questions: Your Purpose

Consider where your questions will lead you. Will your questions:

  • Compare and contrast
    • How is a form of activism different from another one?
    • How is author X's contribution different from author Y's?
    • How is the same topic on activism and change covered by different authors?
  • Associate your topic with another 
    • How did a topic happen in relation to another topic?
  • Interpret the state of your topic
    • Explain the significance of X and how you can measure this significance
  • Explore possibilities or outcomes
    • What are the consequences of a given social or political change?
    • How does change X affect Y
  • Lead to a call for action or change
    • What are the recommendations you may offer to the issue presented in your paper?
  • Argue for a particular stance
    • Present opposing views and argue in favor or against a view

Exercise: Your Topic

See Strategy: Formulating Questions for more information.


Background Information

Background sources are beneficial at the beginning stages of your research process. Encyclopedias, dictionaries, and even Wikipedia are traditional background sources that we usually do not cite in our final project. These sources will give us ideas for research topics, keywords and even provide further information that may be useful.

My sample topic: Poor communities activism against the slow violence to the environment

Question: How does the resistance of poor communities propel change against slow-moving environmental damage? 

Recommended Background Sources

Keywords and Related Terms

Keywords and related terms are those words and phrases that are related to the topic of your research. These terms may be synonymous with a word or a related term. We use keywords to enhance our searches and gather as much scholarship as we can in relation to a topic.

Look at the example below and see how these words are related to my topic:


My topic: Poor communities activism against slow violence to the environment

Keywords:        Related terms
activism advocacy, involvement, boycotting, championing; environmental justice;  ecocriticism; environmentalism; environmental change
activists Ken Saro-Wiwa, Wangari Maathai, Njabulo Ndebele, Arundhati Roy, Indra Sinha, Abdelrahman Munif, Rob Nixon
Location global south; transnational perspective
Environment habitat, territory, environs, wildlife, nature, Mother Nature, climate, ecosystems, environmentalism of the poor;
Issues unsustainable consumer appetites; slow-moving environmental damage, climate change, toxic drift, deforestation, oil spills, environmental aftermath of war, environmental crises, the vulnerability of ecosystems; the poor, disempowered; involuntarily displaced, social conflicts due to life-sustaining conditions;  international oil and chemical companies, the dam industry, wildlife tourism, agri-business, American military cause long-term environmental damage that undermines the health and livelihoods of peoples deemed disposable.
Who does drive the problem? military, civilian, and corporate elites


Boolean Operators

Boolean operators help you connect, expand or exclude your searches.


Ken Saro-Wiwa AND environmental exploitation OR dissent OR modern African struggle 

environment* AND global south AND activism

ecosystems AND global south AND poor

"environmentalism of the poor" AND "environmental justice" AND Indigenous" 

"environmentalism of the poor" AND environmental economics NOT India

"slow violence" AND environment AND activi*