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Choosing a Topic

One of the most difficult steps in beginning a research paper can be choosing a topic. Below you will find suggestions for selecting and focusing a topic and lists of possible topics to help jump start the process for you.

Strategies for Focusing a Broad Research Topic

  • Develop a tentative focus. Make a list of things you already know about the topic and a list of questions you would like to answer about the topic. From the list of questions, choose those you find most interesting.

  • Get some background information on your topic. If you know very little about the topic you have chosen, you may experience difficulty narrowing it. Having some background knowledge on the topic will help you decide how to narrow your focus.
  • Do some preliminary background reading of an article in an encyclopedia.

  • Look for magazine articles to get a general idea of the key issues or controversies involved in your topic. Academic Search Premier or Expanded Academic ASAP are both good starting places to find magazine articles.

  • Narrow your topic by choosing a particular perspective on the issue. Scholars from different subject fields will approach your topic from different angles and will bring different points of view to bear on the subject.

  • Narrow your topic by limiting it to a specific time period or geographic area. This will help better focus your search for information. Look for Limit options in the databases you search.

Finding Research Topic Ideas
You can find ideas for research topics by using the following strategies and resources:

  • Scan your textbook for topic ideas and suggestions.

  • Think of what you have read or seen recently that interested you. You'll be spending a bit of time on your research paper, so be sure to choose a topic that will sustain your interest!

  • Draw on your other classes for inspiration. Are there issues, ideas, or materials from other classes that intrigue you? Is there something you’d like to learn more about?

  • Pick a topic that is practical. Are you considering a career in politics or hoping to start your own business? Choose a topic that allows you to learn about something you can apply to your daily life.

  • Browse an encyclopedia for ideas. General encyclopedias cover all subject areas, and might give you some good ideas. Browsing the Wikipedia can provide some topic ideas. Keep in mind when doing so that anyone can change and edit entries in Wikipedia (never cite wikipedia as a resource).