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CENE 150 Civil and Environmental Engineering for a Sustainable Future

A guide for CENE 150 students to help with their essays and video presentation using library resources

1. Choose a topic with your assignment's source requirements in mind

Your assignment specifies that you need to develop a video having a historical perspective in the form of a case study and that a modern day case study report is used to make a comparison to modern times.

In that case, there are a lot of topics you WON'T want to choose, because many topics are not written about in case studies. For example, you probably won't find an engineering case study about:

  • marshmallow peeps
  • Wilfred Brimley
  • how to tend sheep

Instead, your topic must include:

  1. Decisions and solutions made by civil and environmental engineers
  2. The well-being of the environment or public health
  3. The impact or influence on society, culture, public policy, or the economy

2. Make sure your topic is not too broad

If your topic is a single word or simple phrase, it's probably too broad, like these topics:

  • climate change
  • the Eiffel Tower
  • bridges

When topics are too broad like this, your writing ends up turning into a long definition. Instead, topics should investigate or analyze something. 

Sometimes it's hard to get from a broad topic to a research question that investigates something. To get started, think about your topic in these terms:

  • Who is involved or affected?
  • What problem would you like to resolve? Or, what is a possible solution?
  • When is this topic relevant? Right now, or more historical?
  • Where (geographically) is the topic relevant?
  • How did it happen?

Your topic doesn't need to be stated as a question. It could be a statement or hypothesis to find evidence for - or against.

3. Make sure your topic is not too narrow

It's possible to choose a topic that's so narrow, obscure, or weird that NO information sources exist on it - or, at least no case studies. For example:

  • What percentage of commercial airline crashes was traced to negligent maintenance during the ten years immediately preceding and following deregulation of the airline industry?

That example demonstrates another problem: the answer would simply be a percentage, and you wouldn't be able to stretch that into an essay

You may need to do a preliminary search on your topic to make sure you can actually find a case study about it. As long as you start the assignment early enough, you should be able to find a topic and a case study no problem!