Research Help: Choosing a Topic
- Whenever possible, choose a topic that interests you.
- If your topic must be approved by your professor, choose at least two so you have an alternative ready to go in case your first choice is not approved.
- If you can, avoid very popular topics such as the death penalty, abortion, gun control, legalization of drugs, etc. Not only will your professor appreciate reading something different, but you will not have to compete with lots of other students for library books.
- Be certain that you understand the assignment before you choose something.
- Do not choose as a topic some event that is very recent, for example, while it is now possible to write a research paper on 9/11 because enough time has elapsed for books and articles to get published, it would have been impossible to do so right after it happened.
When the Topic Must Relate to Class Content
- Look through your textbooks and assigned readings.
- Look through an encyclopedia that relates to your class, for example, if you are in a criminal justice class, find an encyclopedia on criminal justice, prisons, or crime.
- Ask your professor for suggestions, guidelines, and/or specific books that would be helpful.
- Locate a scholarly journal that relates to your class and look through some recent issues.
- Try some experimental keyword searches in a library database related to the class.
When the Topic Can be Anything
- Look through current issues of newspapers, magazines, and journals to see what catches your eye.
- Watch television news, documentaries, or other factual shows to see if anything turns up.
- Use the Opposing Viewpointsdatabase to see a long list of current topics (ask a librarian to show you how).
Try this list: Best Information on the Net (library.sau.edu/bestinfo/alpha.htm).
Narrowing a Topic to Fit Your Assignment—Strategy 1
Let’s say that you want to do a paper on domestic violence. This is an enormous topic. Even if your paper is 15 – 20 pages long, it is not long enough to cover domestic violence in general. You must get specific.
Here is a strategy to try:
Ask yourself who, what, when, where, or how. Like this:
- Who reports domestic violence? Who are the perpetrators? Who are the victims?
- What causes domestic violence? What single factor contributes the most to domestic violence? What should a teacher do if she thinks a child is a victim?
- When domestic violence was first recognized as a social problem? When is domestic violence least likely to happen? When do victims feel able to live normal lives again?
- Where can victims go for help? Where are reports of domestic violence the lowest? Where does the funding for domestic violence programs come from?
- How can domestic violence be stopped? How does a specific type of therapy help the victims? How does a particular treatment help the perpetrator?
Narrowing a Topic to Fit Your Assignment—Strategy 2
Here is another strategy to try:
Ask yourself these questions:
- Does gender/age/ethnicity play a role in relation to my topic?
- Is there a specific incident/discovery/turning point for my topic?
- What specific time period is most interesting in relation to my topic?
- Is there a single cause/effect I can focus on?
- Is there a particular argument/viewpoint in relation to my topic?
And of course, always ask your professor or a librarian for assistance!
Adapted from a document created by the Pfau Library at California State University, San Bernardino, 9/10