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Research Hacked: Controversial Topics

Get the low-down on finding information for pro/con, argumentative, persuasive, and controversial topics.

research hacked - controversial topics

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Have a persuasive or argumentative assignment? Need to present both sides or multiple perspectives on a topic or issue? Then, you are probably dealing with a controversial topic. By this, we mean you probably need pro/con or differing viewpoints on your topic.

Controversial topics often, but not always, share these characteristics:

  • generate many diverse and divergent opinions
  • create a level of disagreement from mild to acute
  • feel emotionally charged, and possibly politicized
  • touch on ethical or moral concerns that might involve an individual's core identify
  • present no clear solution or resolution that would please all stakeholders

While some instructors may "forbid" selecting some of these topics, they are often good choices because they provide many sources of information and allow for a position to be made and argued.

Pick Your Search Tools

Best Bets

Power Search Tools

Select Your Search Strategies

Exact Phrase

Add Quotation Marks to search for an exact phrase or words in a specific or EXACT order. An exact phrase will return more accurate results because it snaps all of the words together, turning it into a phrase that must be found exactly in that order.

Example: social media vs. “social media”

3 Magic Words - AND, OR, NOT

3 Venn diagrams showing relationship of AND OR NOT


Apply filters to limit your search results. Because they limit your results, filters might also be called limiters. The most common and helpful filters to limit your results are:

  • Date: Limit to the past 5 years, or a specific date range
  • Source Type: Limit to academic/scholarly sources or any other type, such as news or ebooks
  • Peer Review: Limit to scholarly sources that have been peer reviewed


Create a list of keywords associated with your topic.

What else could it be called (synonyms)?

For example: smartphone - "cell phone" - cell - "mobile phone" - "cellular phone" - mobile - "mobile device"

Topics can be narrowed or broadened depending on the use of search terms. What describes it specifically (hyponyms)? What is it related to broadly (hypernyms)?

General: smartphone

Narrower: iPhone

Broader: mobile device

Check Your Language

Emotional Language

Emotional Language 

Focuses on evoking feelings in the reader, both positive and negative. It can be used to persuade or connect with the audience. (Think "heartwarming" or "infuriating")

Charged Language

Focuses on intensity and can be emotionally charged, but it can also be provocative or inflammatory without necessarily appealing to emotions. It's often used to spark debate or controversy. (Think "outrageous" or "radical")

Why it matters
  1. Searching with emotional or charged language might lead you into an echo chamber.
  2. Databases often don't recognize emotionally loaded terms as effective keywords and might return fewer results than a more neutral term.
  3. Sources using emotional or charged language often have a clear agenda and might not present a balanced view.
  • Emotional Language: "Gun violence" emphasizes the emotional impact of guns.
  • Charged Language: "Gun ban" could be seen as charged language because it's a strong and potentially controversial solution to the issue.
  • Neutral Language: firearms and (laws or legislation)

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