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ENGL 1A - Food & Identity - Andrea Sanelli


Paper with Magnifying Glass by Unicon LabsSpend some time trying to understand what your instructor wants. For example, you may be asked to write a research paper on a particular aspect of something broader you are discussing in class. It may help to jump into a background resource to get a broad understanding of the topic again. A background resource might be an online encyclopedia of some kind.

Image from Uniconlab

Take notes as you read the background source. Did your brain gravitate to any particular angle on the topic? Is this something you could pursue in your paper?

Brain and pencil iconAfter exploring the broad topic in a background resource (such as Credo), and thinking through your focus/aspect, it's a good idea to write down words to help with the search.

The table below is an example on how to brainstorm related, synonymous, and adjacent terms that might help you find great sources! The words you use access different information from different communities. 

Example research topic: gentrification (and what about it??)

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Search Word Brainstorm
main words main topic: gentrification focus/angle: economics

Bay Area, housing inequality, dense housing,

urban environment

scarcity, socio economic, lower class,

upper class, poverty, low income, tech

Try the library's OneSearch to cross search all the excellent content you have access to as a CCSF student! CCSF Library resources are often NOT available for free in a Google Search.

Here is an example using some of the words we brainstormed in the previous part of our process: 

Example OneSearch process - using Advanced search option: line 1 - used search word gentrification; line 2 - used San Francisco search word; line 3: economy or financial or scarcity (search words)

(Want to see? The demo search is available.)


By skimming your first page of results, you will get a sense of whether your combination of search words was helpful. If there is not one single helpful result on the page, go back to your word brainstorm and replace an old search word with a new one. Here are some things to consider when looking at the results of a search: 

Magnifying Glass by Slidicon Icon by Slidicon

  1. Skim the initial set of results and think, "Where are my search words coming up?"
    • In the title?
    • In the subjects?
    • When you click into the item, do you see any of your search words in the abstract?
  1. Look at the page length of the items you are surfacing.
    • This is not to say that you don't want to use long items - there are some gems in there! But think about your assignment and the amount of time you have to complete it. If an item is too long to use in it's entirety (such as an entire ebook), you may be able to use a section (such as a relevant chapter within an ebook). 
  2. Can you focus your search beyond the words you put in? In some library tools, you may see some check boxes to adjust your results.
    • If you are looking for academic sources, clicking the filter for "Peer-reviewed journals" may help.
    • You may also want to adjust the date range of results. 
Resist the urge to pick ALL of your needed sources in one go!
Instead, pick a couple of sources, read them deeply, and take notes.
You can find more in your next layer of searching!

Did you read your first few sources? Really REALLY read them? Good! Your brain is probably swirling with ideas! Good ones, bad ones, annoyed ones, anxious ones. These are all okay.

What are you thinking about? What did you highlight the most? What is sparking interest in your brain?


  • Pay attention to what your brain is gravitating toward,
  • brainstorm some new search words, and
  • search again!

You will find results that did not come up last time, and your search words will be even more specific to your interest, and this will help you find what you need to write your paper. By giving your brain room to think deeply, you can find even more sources to include in your project, and they will help you write an amazing research paper.

Good luck! We are here in the library and ready to help. Contact us today!

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You have likely been taking notes all along! But now you're really sitting down to write the paper, and you might want some help. While the library can help you think about research topics, find sources, and cite them, it's best to turn to the experts in the actual writing of the paper. In that case, we recommend:

The English Lab Online

The English Lab is a free and useful resource for all CCSF students.  They can review reading assignments, offer help in writing and revising writing, and provide activities to help with other reading and writing issues.

The English Lab has faculty and peer tutors with available appointments to meet with you on Zoom.  Make an appointment today!

Enroll in the free English Lab Online to find ways to get expert, free help available to all CCSF students.

Featured Reference Books - Overviews, Background & Context

The A-Z Encyclopedia of Food Controversies and the Law

This two-volume set is a broad compendium of the law, policies, and legal influences that affect the food on our plates today. * Alphabetically arranged entries describe topics related to the intersection of law and food.

We Eat What?

Many of the foods we eat every day are unique to the regions of the United States in which we live. Some dishes popular in one region may even be unheard of in another region. This encyclopedia examines  foods that are unique to the United States as well as dishes found only in specific American regions and individual states.

Food, Feasts, and Faith

An indispensable resource for exploring food and faith, this two-volume set offers information on food-related religious beliefs, customs, and practices from around the world. 

A Cultural History of Food

This set of six volumes covers over 2500 years of food and its physical, spiritual, social and cultural dimensions. Readers can have a broad overview of a period by reading a volume or follow a theme through history by reading the relevant chapter in each volume.

No One Eats Alone

Everyone Eats examines the social and cultural reasons for our food choices and provides an explanation of the nutritional reasons for why humans eat, resulting in a unique cultural and biological approach to the topic. 

Source Types


  • Background sources (also known as reference sources) are tertiary and contain information we "refer" to, such as dictionaries and encyclopedias. These are good sources to use to get started - when you need ideas for how to narrow your topic, or could use more words to describe your needs (such as when thinking of keywords to put into a search box.)

What do they contain?

  • Entries (though sometimes articles & videos!)

How often are these sources published?

  • Once, annually, or every few years

Found in:

Alternative places to look:


  • Books are full length sources that can be on a topic by one or more authors, or anthologies, which contain several chapters/sections written by different authors that are often compiled by an editor.

What do they contain?

  • Chapters, sections, essays

How often are these sources published?

  • Once, annually, or every few years

Found in:


  • Magazines, journals, and newspapers, are types of "periodicals" - as in, they are published periodically throughout the year. There are many different intended audiences.

What do they contain?

  • Articles

How often are these sources published?

  • Magazines - usually monthly & quarterly (seasonally)
  • Journals - less frequently; can be monthly, but more likely quarterly
  • Newspapers - usually daily

Found in:


  • Media sources come in a variety of audio and visual formats. Some of these can be helpful for research - like podcasts, documentaries, and web clips.

What are some examples?

  • Audio - such as CDs, MP3s, podcasts, and material on streaming websites
  • Video - such as DVDs, MP4s, YouTube videos, and material on streaming services (like Films on Demand and Netflix)

How often are these sources published?

  • Continuously

Found in:


  • Statistics are the result from raw data that have been interpreted and analyzed. They are often helpful when you're looking for a number or percentage to support an argument in your assignments, research papers, or presentations. A statistic will answer "how much" or "how many." Statistics are usually presented in a table, chart, or other visualization.

What do they contain?

  • Usually an average, a percentage, or a frequency as a result of data analysis
    • Examples:
      • The average unemployment rate in the United States in March 2022
      • The percentage of car accidents that occur during a snowstorm
      • The frequency of accidents involving teenage drivers

How often are these sources published?

  • Current statistics might be a year or older and not necessarily published on an annual basis and are based on how often the information is collected + the time it takes to analyze and process numbers.

Found in:

  • Websites for
    • government agencies (e.g. U.S. Census Bureau),
    • private organizations or non-profits (e.g. The American Cancer Society),
    • academic institutions, or
    • the private sector (for example, marketing firms, pollsters, or trade organizations).
  • Articles in journals, newspapers, and magazines.

Note: government statistics are free and publicly available, however, many other kinds of statistics require access through library subscription databases.

Library Databases

The databases below are a good starting point to find articles from newspapers, magazines, and journals. Looking for statistics embedded within these articles can be helpful. Search a keyword or two for your topic. For example, "obesity." Then combine your keyword search with a subject search ("SU Subject Term" ) for statistics.


  • Websites are online spaces that host a multitude of content. The collection of content for a website is within the same domain. (In the example below, is the domain).
    • Examples:

What do they contain?

How often are these sources published?

  • Continuously

Found on:

  • The "open web." Search engines "crawl" and "index" items found in the open web, such as webpages, blog posts, infographics, PDFs, and other material that people post to the web. The open web contains materials not behind a paywall (such as when an online journal website asks for payment to show you an article). Databases are technically behind a paywall, because they contain material that is accessed after the library pays a subscription fee.

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