Exploring and Narrowing Research Topics with Yewno

Exploring and Narrowing Research Topics with Yewno

Overview: When students pick a research topic for the first time, they may not know where to begin in their research process. This activity invites students to pick a key term or phrase from their research and use a software application available through Stanford Libraries, Yewno, to explore associated keywords or ideas with a central research topic. Students will finish the activity with a new list of keywords, key people, or key places to investigate as they delve further into their research.

Activity title: Exploring and Narrowing Research Topics with Yewno

Author: Jenae Cohn

Course: PWR 1 or PWR 2

Activity length and schedule: Approx. 15-30 minutes. In PWR 1, this activity could work well before students begin working on the TiC. In PWR 2, this activity could work either around the time that students are crafting their research proposals OR after they've completed a draft of their RBA to see if their topis need narrowing or broadening.

Activity goals:

  • Help students see whether their research topic needs to be narrowed or broadened.
  • Explore the range of research key words or topics that might be related to a topic that the student has already identified.
  • Articulate new search terms to find more evidence for a research project.

Activity details:

  • Students will come to this class activity with a few keywords in mind for researching their projects. Ask them to pick one of the keywords that they've identified in advance and enter it into the Yewno search engine [note that this link will only be accessible if you are on-campus or logged into the Stanford Library VPN].
  • After the students have entered in their keywords, the Yewno program will generate a concept map that will show related keywords, topics, people, or places related to the entered keyword. Ask students to click through a few of the other nodes on the chart and explore these related topics.
  • After a few minutes, direct students to some reflection on their results. Give each student a few minutes to answer at least one of the following questions:
  1. Which related keywords, topics, people, or places stood out from the topic search?
  2. Which related keywords, etc. seemed surprising?
  3. Which combination of keywords will the student use to research the topic more moving forward?
  • After students have had some time to reflect individually, invite conversation about the experience of finding related keywords. How might seeing these related keywords or concepts help students narrow or broaden their research topics? How might seeing these related keywords or concepts give students more to search for? This conversation might end with some concrete instructor suggestions on using search engines effectively for research.

Activity notes:

  • Yewno's license is managed by the Stanford Libraries, so any questions about technical difficulties would be best directed to them.
  • Yewno may look like a search engine, but for the purposes of our PWR 1 and 2 students, it is best used as a topic exploration tool. Some citations and resources appear through Yewno, and students may find some useful sources this way, but instructors will want to make sure that students understand the difference between an exploration and brainstorming tool like Yewno with the library catalog or other online databases and search engines.