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Intro to Women and Gender Studies - WGST110 - Pop Culture Representations

Research guide for the Representations of Women and Gender in Pop Culture: Then and Now assignment in Intro to Women and Gender Studies

Developing your research question

This video describes ways you can narrow your topic to develop a research question. It adds additional details to the information on this page.


Narrowing your topic

You may begin your research with a general or broad idea about what you want to research, such as portrayals of black women or the elderly. As you research and learn more about your topic, find ways to focus on a specific type of media portrayal. This will make your research more manageable and allow you to provide a detailed analysis of a specific archetype, rather than a broad analysis of a general concept.

  • Ask where you might find this archetype:
    • Television?
    • Film?
    • Commercials?
    • Print advertisements?
  • Where could also refer to geographic location. Do you want to focus on a specific place?
    • The American South?
    • New York City?
    • England?
  • What time period is your focus?
    • The present?
    • The 1960's?
    • The 19th century?
  • Is there a sub-set of people you want to focus on?
    • Rather than portrayals of black women, you might decide to focus on black mothers or grandmothers.​
  • Look for terminology specific to your topic that may not be widely used. These terms can help you locate the most relevant sources.
    • Example: Archetypes of African-American women like the Mammy, Jezebel, and Sapphire.


Search techniques

As you develop keywords and narrow down your topic, there are some techniques you can use to help you find the most relevant resources.

  • When searching in the databases, use only the most important terms. You do not need to use full questions or filler words.
  • Think of synonyms and related terms - using keywords while searching is like trying to match the words you use with the words used by authors of articles or books. If you can't find what you are looking for, try using a synonym of your term.
    • Example: portrayal, stereotype, representation, archetype, trope
  • "Quotes around phrase" - this searches for your phrase in that exact order instead of as separate words. Use this when you know your phrase is commonly used and you expect to find it in outside sources.
    • Example: "Aunt Jemima"
  • AND - combine your search terms with and to focus your topic
  • OR - combine your search terms with or to search for multiple synonyms at the same time
  • Truncation: femin* = feminine, feminist, femininity, etc. - this searches for any word that begins with that root
  • Wild card: wom?n = woman, women - similar to truncation, but it searches for words with any letter in the open spot


Combine keywords to create complex search string:
"working mother" AND advertisement AND television AND representation

Use multiple synonyms to find the most possible articles:
(representation OR portrayal) AND father AND film


This graphic provides a visual representation of the research process, from broad idea to thesis statement.

Narrowing cone

Research starters

These databases can help you refine your topic or find additional keywords.