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Selecting a research topic: overview.

  • Refine your topic
  • Background information & facts
  • Writing help

Here are some resources to refer to when selecting a topic and preparing to write a paper:

  • MIT Writing and Communication Center "Providing free professional advice about all types of writing and speaking to all members of the MIT community."
  • Search Our Collections Find books about writing. Search by subject for: english language grammar; report writing handbooks; technical writing handbooks
  • Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation Online version of the book that provides examples and tips on grammar, punctuation, capitalization, and other writing rules.
  • Select a topic

Choosing an interesting research topic is your first challenge. Here are some tips:

  • Choose a topic that you are interested in! The research process is more relevant if you care about your topic.
  • If your topic is too broad, you will find too much information and not be able to focus.
  • Background reading can help you choose and limit the scope of your topic. 
  • Review the guidelines on topic selection outlined in your assignment.  Ask your professor or TA for suggestions.
  • Refer to lecture notes and required texts to refresh your knowledge of the course and assignment.
  • Talk about research ideas with a friend.  S/he may be able to help focus your topic by discussing issues that didn't occur to you at first.
  • WHY did you choose the topic?  What interests you about it?  Do you have an opinion about the issues involved?
  • WHO are the information providers on this topic?  Who might publish information about it?  Who is affected by the topic?  Do you know of organizations or institutions affiliated with the topic?
  • WHAT are the major questions for this topic?  Is there a debate about the topic?  Are there a range of issues and viewpoints to consider?
  • WHERE is your topic important: at the local, national or international level?  Are there specific places affected by the topic?
  • WHEN is/was your topic important?  Is it a current event or an historical issue?  Do you want to compare your topic by time periods?

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College Raptor


How to Select the Right Research Topic in 5 Easy Steps

Being able to choose suitable research topics is an important skill to have for any student. Not only is it the difference between writing a good paper and falling flat on your face, it’s imperative if you want the process to run smoothly.

The importance of writing a good paper can lead students to feel an enormous and looming weight hanging over their heads as time passes, however, if you know a few crucial steps, choosing the right research topics can be quick, easy and even fun.

In this article, you will see how to find the perfect research topics in just five easy steps, stress-free.

Rows of sociology books on bookshelves.

1. Brainstorm Some Research Topics

The first and probably the easiest step is to have a brainstorming session to see what topic is best for you. It’s best to find something that interests you, but you shouldn’t be afraid to go out of your comfort zone a little bit. Look at what is going on in the news and see if anything sparks a creative burst of thought. Make a long list of possible choices and begin the selection process.

Here are ideas to get your brainstorm started (and yes, these are just some!):

History research Paper topics

Religion research Paper Topics

Psychology research Paper Topics

Environmental Research Paper Topics

Sociopolitical Research Paper Topics

Education Research Paper Topics

Technology Research Paper Topics

Health Research Paper Topics

 2. Select a Topic

The next step is selecting a topic. That might sound obvious and straightforward but doing this step right is important if you want the rest of the process to be painless.

A common mistake students can make, is getting far too specific at the early stages, however, selecting the right topic is a process of elimination.

The objective of starting off with a finalized idea is to save time, but the time you will spend getting to that stage will help you with the rest of the process, so it’s best not to rush it.

Start off by picking a very broad subject and the more widespread, the better. So if you decide to write about a multi-faceted subject such as music do it! The next steps will solidify your idea and bring you closer to that final draft.

3. Get Super Specific

Once you have a broad subject, the next step is to get super-specific. This will help you determine whether or not your subject has depth and is worth perusing. If this step takes a little time and you find yourself changing your mind about your topic, don’t worry because once you nail this step, the rest will be easy.

The idea is to get your broad idea and then extract a particular element of that subject. Then, you have to take that aspect and make that even more specific. For example, if your topic is about music get specific by making it about blues music. And then get even more precise by making it about the effect and influence blues from rural Mississippi had on Chicago blues in the ’50s; this is how you make a paper unique as well as interesting.

4. Define Your Topic as a Question

Once you have a specific topic you now need to define it a question that will help you with the context of your paper. So, if your chosen topic is the “The effect Mississippi Blues had on Chicago blues in the 50’s” You need to change it to something along the lines of: “How has rural Mississippi Blues influenced mainstream Chicago Blues”

5. Research Your Topic More / Create an Outline

At this stage you essentially have a paper that is waiting to be written, all you have to do now is some in-depth research on the specific aspects of your paper and create an outline of what you want your paper to say. Write a two-sentence answer to your defined topic question, and you are ready to begin.

The hardest part is complete; in only five steps, you have your research topic. Whether you choose to write about something fun but interesting, controversial issues, or current events, take the time to use these steps and do it right. Now all you need to do is write it!

The first thing you should do is make a list of things that you want your research paper to say, how you want to say it, and how you want it to be perceived. Create aims and goals and write a timeline of when and how you want to achieve them, but before you do so, be sure to take note of the five steps above and put them into practice before you write a single word.

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Q. How can I choose a good topic for my research paper?

Answered By: Woodruff Library Reference Last Updated: Jan 04, 2022     Views: 507530

How do you decide what to write about when confronted with a research paper? You want a focused topic!

Here are some things to consider:

Here's one strategy for developing a research topic once you have a broad topic in mind:

The topic development process will help you to develop your thesis , which is essentially your proposed answer to your research question. You will then be ready to use the sources you've found, and find more sources in order to support that thesis, or to answer your research question.

Here's an example of how the topic development process above can lead you to a thesis:

Resources that can help you develop your topic:

Check out this video from NCSU Libraries:

Thanks go to the Portland State University Library for sharing their Library DIY idea with us!

Was this helpful? Yes 355 No 97

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Related topics, chat with a librarian:.

Purdue Online Writing Lab College of Liberal Arts

How to guide for choosing the best research paper topics?

Choosing a Topic

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Welcome to the Purdue OWL

This page is brought to you by the OWL at Purdue University. When printing this page, you must include the entire legal notice.

Copyright ©1995-2018 by The Writing Lab & The OWL at Purdue and Purdue University. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, reproduced, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our terms and conditions of fair use.

This handout provides detailed information about how to write research papers including discussing research papers as a genre, choosing topics, and finding sources.

The first step of any research paper is for the student to understand the assignment. If this is not done, the student will often travel down many dead-end roads, wasting a great deal of time along the way. Do not hesitate to approach the instructor with questions if there is any confusion. A clear understanding of the assignment will allow you to focus on other aspects of the process, such as choosing a topic and identifying your audience.

A student will often encounter one of two situations when it comes to choosing a topic for a research paper. The first situation occurs when the instructor provides a list of topics from which the student may choose. These topics have been deemed worthy by the instructor; therefore, the student should be confident in the topic he chooses from the list. Many first-time researchers appreciate such an arrangement by the instructor because it eliminates the stress of having to decide upon a topic on their own.

However, the student may also find the topics that have been provided to be limiting; moreover, it is not uncommon for the student to have a topic in mind that does not fit with any of those provided. If this is the case, it is always beneficial to approach the instructor with one's ideas. Be respectful, and ask the instructor if the topic you have in mind would be a possible research option for the assignment. Remember, as a first-time researcher, your knowledge of the process is quite limited; the instructor is experienced, and may have very precise reasons for choosing the topics she has offered to the class. Trust that she has the best interests of the class in mind. If she likes the topic, great! If not, do not take it personally and choose the topic from the list that seems most interesting to you.

The second situation occurs when the instructor simply hands out an assignment sheet that covers the logistics of the research paper, but leaves the choice of topic up to the student. Typically, assignments in which students are given the opportunity to choose the topic require the topic to be relevant to some aspect of the course; so, keep this in mind as you begin a course in which you know there will be a research paper near the end. That way, you can be on the lookout for a topic that may interest you. Do not be anxious on account of a perceived lack of authority or knowledge about the topic chosen. Instead, realize that it takes practice to become an experienced researcher in any field.

For a discussion of Evaluating Sources, see Evaluating Sources of Information .

Methods for choosing a topic

Thinking early leads to starting early. If the student begins thinking about possible topics when the assignment is given, she has already begun the arduous, yet rewarding, task of planning and organization. Once she has made the assignment a priority in her mind, she may begin to have ideas throughout the day. Brainstorming is often a successful way for students to get some of these ideas down on paper. Seeing one's ideas in writing is often an impetus for the writing process. Though brainstorming is particularly effective when a topic has been chosen, it can also benefit the student who is unable to narrow a topic. It consists of a timed writing session during which the student jots down—often in list or bulleted form—any ideas that come to his mind. At the end of the timed period, the student will peruse his list for patterns of consistency. If it appears that something seems to be standing out in his mind more than others, it may be wise to pursue this as a topic possibility.

It is important for the student to keep in mind that an initial topic that you come up with may not be the exact topic about which you end up writing. Research topics are often fluid, and dictated more by the student's ongoing research than by the original chosen topic. Such fluidity is common in research, and should be embraced as one of its many characteristics.

The Purdue OWL also offers a number of other resources on choosing and developing a topic:

COVID-19 Planning and Resources

Choosing a Research Topic

The topic you choose plays a large role in the outcome of your research project. It is likely that your topic will change several times as you progress through the early stages of research, so don't worry if your first few ideas turn into dead ends. Where are you in the process right now?

Getting ideas for your topic

Understand the assignment.

Is it a 5-minute presentation or a 15-page paper? Do you need to find everything about the topic or just enough about one area to explain it to someone else? Asking yourself these kinds of questions can help you determine what types of sources you are looking for.

Do you need recent information? Do you need primary sources ? Do you need data sources?

If the due date is less than a week away, you’ll need to focus on resources that our library has. If you have more time, you’ll be able to request articles and books through Interlibrary Loan.

A good topic is...

Ways to look for ideas when brainstorming a topic:

Start looking for sources

Brainstorm search terms.

Make a list of words that describe your topic. In addition to words for broad concepts (e.g. poverty, feminism) consider brainstorming more specific keywords, such as:

Event: an event within the context of your topic. Time: a particular time period connected to your topic. Person or group: an individual or group identified with the topic or particularly affected by it. Place: a region, city or other geographical unit connected to your topic.

Read over background information on your topic using encyclopedias or a specialized dictionary… or Wikipedia, just don’t end your research there.

Use your list to do a few basic keyword searches in the library catalog and one or two databases relevant to your subject to see if your topic can be supported by the available information. Schedule a library lab or stop by the reference desk to ask a librarian where to start looking.

Narrowing your topic

If you’ve found numerous articles or books that are potentially related to your topic and you can’t decide which ones to focus on, it’s time to narrow your topic. Go back to your list of keywords — is there a particular person, place, time period, or event you could use as the focus of your paper?              

Too broad : postcolonial literature in India             Better : postcolonial aspects of the work of Salman Rushdie             Best : postcolonial dynamics of historical representation in Rushdie's Midnight's Children

Be flexible — it is normal to have your topic change as your research progresses. You can never predict what you’re going to find.

Broaden your topic

Before you give up on a topic that really interests you, it’s worth talking to a librarian or your professor to see if there are potential sources you are overlooking or that are hard to find. Sometimes, though, there's just no reliable data on the topic. You might need to broaden it or take a different angle.

Can you expand the concepts you’d like to study?            

Too narrow: women voting for Ross Perot in Poweshiek county Better: success of third parties among Iowa voters

Can you expand the time period or groups of people that you hope to study?

Too narrow: women in Iowa voting for a third party in the 1992 or 1996 election Better: Iowa voters response to Ross Perot in the 1992 or 1996 election

Turn your topic into a research question

After you’ve conducted background research on your topic, it can be helpful to begin expressing it as a specific question.

Idea = Frank Lloyd Wright or modern architecture

Research Question = How has Frank Lloyd Wright influenced modern architecture?

Focused Research Question = What design principles used by Frank Lloyd Wright are common in contemporary homes?

Tracking Down a Citation

Great! The next step is using the citations from your professor to track down the sources. Where are you in the process right now?   I need to:

To determine if your citations are for books, articles or other types of sources, refer to a chart of example citations or use these tools: 

Deciphering a citation

Before you can find a cited source, you need to understand what the citation is telling you to look for. Is it a book, chapter of a book, journal article, or another type of source like a dissertation or government document? All reliable citations include the same basic information. Different citation styles arrange it in different orders, but here are the things you should be able to find out about a source from its citation:

The citation might provide more information than this, such indicating whether a source was found in print or online, but these are the basic facts you'll need to track it down. Citations come in different forms depending on where you find them. This is a sample citation of a book as it is found in the bibliography of an article:

Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. Rev. ed. New York: Verso, 1991.

This is a citation for the same book as found in a search in the MLA International  Bibliography:  

Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism.

Benedict Anderson.

New York, NY: Verso, 1991. xv, 224 pp.

Although a database citation looks different from an article citation, it should provide you with the same basic information — and enough information for you to determine what type of source this is.

Type of source: Book

How do you know: Only has one title (no separate title for chapter or article), has no volume or issue number, lists a publisher and place of publication rather than a journal title 

Reference Sources

Before you jump into looking for detailed sources on specific aspects of your topic, it can be very helpful to get a lay of the land by doing some background reading in reference sources. Reading an encyclopedia article or other reference source is a quick way to:

  Here are three ways to find background sources:

And here's just a sampling of our electronic reference sources.

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Research Process: An Overview: Choosing a Topic

APA Citation

Read Background Information

Tip: keywords.

Keywords are the main terms that describe your research question or topic.   Keep track of these words so you can use them when searching for books and articles.

How to guide for choosing the best research paper topics?

Related Research Guides

How to guide for choosing the best research paper topics?

Click through the tabs to learn the basics, find examples, and watch video tutorials.

How to guide for choosing the best research paper topics?

English Writing Skills

This guide supports academic and business writing, including a basic review of grammar fundamentals, writing guides, video tutorials on business writing, and resources for the TOEFL, IELTS, and PTE exams.

Getting Started

Topic selection.

Choosing your topic is the first step in the research process. Be aware that selecting a good topic may not be easy. It must be narrow and focused enough to be interesting, yet broad enough to find adequate information. 

For help getting started on the writing process go to the  GGU Online Writing Lab (Writing tutor) where you can set up and appointment with a writing tutor.

#1 Research ti p:  Pick a topic that interests you.  You are going to live with this topic for weeks while you research, read, and write your assignment. Choose something that will hold your interest and that you might even be excited about. Your attitude towards your topic will come across in your writing or presentation!

Brainstorming  is a technique you can use to help you generate ideas. Below are brainstorming exercises and resources to help you come up with research topic ideas. 

Brainstorming Topic Ideas

Ask yourself the following questions to help you generate topic ideas:.

Finding Topic Ideas

Topic ideas.

Try the resources below to help you get ideas for possible research topics:

Background Information

Read an encyclopedia article on the top two or three topics you are considering. Reading a broad summary enables you to get an overview of the topic and see how your idea relates to broader, narrower, and related issues. If you cant find an article on your topic, ask a librarian for help.

SAGE Research Methods

Ask A Librarian

Email questions to [email protected]

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Sacred Heart University Library

Organizing Academic Research Papers: Purpose of Guide

Purpose of guide.

This guide is intended to help you organize and write a quality academic research paper. Also included are recommendations regarding how to manage specific course assignments. Note that, if you have specific questions about how to write a research paper, you should always seek advice from your professor before you begin. Specific requirements stated by your professor will always supersede instructions provided in these general guidelines.

Thanks to Dr. Robert V. Labaree of the Von KleinSmid Center Library for International and Public Affairs, University of Southern California Libraries , for sharing the content of this guide.

Additional Help

Jandrisevits Learning Center (JLC)

The JLC is SHU’s central academic support service and is open to all SHU students. Our mission is to provide academic support to strengthen student learning and empower every student to develop as self-directed learners. JLC tutors see each student as a holistic learner, paying attention to the importance of cognition as well as to the emotional aspects of learning.

Academic Support Services include 1-on-1 tutoring with Professional and Peer tutors; group study sessions for particular courses by Classroom Learning Assistants (CLAs); monthly workshops on specific academic and life skills; specialized Learning Labs in math, critical reading and writing, accounting, and math; and online writing support (OWL).

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Research Topic Ideas

Getting started, 1. brainstorming for a topic, 2. read general background information, 3. focus your topic, more research help.

This guide provides you with a list of topic ideas (by subject or academic discipline) which could be developed into a research paper or project. It is not an all-inclusive list, but a list developed over time with input from faculty and students.

It is intended to offer suggestions only.

This is NOT a guide to help you research a topic. It is only intended to provide ideas for a paper.

The ability to develop a good research topic is an important skill. An instructor may assign you a specific topic, but most often instructors require you to select your own topic of interest. When deciding on a topic, there are a few things that you will need to do:

Selecting a good topic may not be easy. It must be narrow and focused enough to be interesting, yet broad enough to find adequate information. Before selecting your final topic, make sure you know what your final project should look like. Each class or instructor will likely require a different format or style of research project.

Choose a topic that interests you. Use the following questions to help generate topic ideas.

Write down any key words or concepts that may be of interest to you. These terms can be helpful in your searching and used to form a more focused research topic.

Be aware of overused ideas when deciding a topic. You may wish to avoid topics such as abortion, gun control, teen pregnancy, or suicide unless you feel you have a unique approach to the topic. Ask the instructor for ideas if you feel you are stuck or need additional guidance.

Sometimes using a  Concept Map  can help you come up with directions to take your research.

Read a general encyclopedia article on the top two or three topics you are considering.

Reading a broad summary enables you to get an overview of the topic and see how your idea relates to broader, narrower, and related issues. It also provides a great source for finding words commonly used to describe the topic. These keywords may be very useful to your later research.

If you can't find an article on your topic, try using broader terms and ask for help from a librarian.

The databases listed below are good places to find general information. The library's print reference collection can also be useful and is located on the third floor of the library.

U-M login required

Keep it manageable and be flexible. If you start doing more research and not finding enough sources that support your thesis, you may need to adjust your topic.

A topic will be very difficult to research if it is too broad or narrow. One way to narrow a broad topic such as "the environment" is to limit your topic. Some common ways to limit a topic are:

Example: What environmental issues are most important in the Southwestern United States?

Example: What are the most prominent environmental issues of the last 10 years?

Example: How does environmental awareness effect business practices today?

Example: What are the effects of air pollution on senior citizens?

Remember that a topic may be too difficult to research if it is too:

Example: What sources of pollution affect the Genesee County water supply?

Example: How can the environment contribute to the culture, politics and society of the Western United States?

Putting your topic in the form of a question will help you focus on what type of information you want to collect.

If you have any difficulties or questions with focusing your topic, discuss the topic with your instructor, or with a librarian.

For more help with the research help, please see our Research Help Guides:


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  1. Overview

    Select a topic · WHY did you choose the topic? What interests you about it? · WHO are the information providers on this topic? Who might publish

  2. How to Select the Right Research Topic in 5 Easy Steps

    1. Brainstorm Some Research Topics · 2. Select a Topic · 3. Get Super Specific · 4. Define Your Topic as a Question · 5. Research Your Topic More /

  3. Q. How can I choose a good topic for my research paper?

    Consider the scope of your topic. If your topic is too broad it may be hard to find information that is focused and relevant; if your topic is

  4. Choosing a Topic

    The first step of any research paper is for the student to understand the assignment. If this is not done, the student will often travel down many dead-end

  5. Choosing a Research Topic

    Getting ideas for your topic ; Are there assigned topics or do you need to develop your own? Has your instructor specified what type or how many sources you need

  6. Research Process: An Overview: Choosing a Topic

    Ask yourself the following questions to help you generate topic ideas: · Do you have a strong opinion on a current social or political

  7. Choosing a Research Topic

    This video helps you find a research topic that is relevant and interesting to you!Creative Commons License:This work is licensed under a

  8. how to choose topic for research paper l How to choose ...

    how to choose topic for research paper l How to choose Research Topic Make sure your topic meets the assignment requirements.

  9. Organizing Academic Research Papers: 1. Choosing a Topic

    Instead of searching for the path of least resistance, begin by choosing a topic that you find interesting in some way, or that is controversial

  10. Research Topic Ideas

    Getting Started · Brainstorm for ideas. · Choose a topic that will enable you to read and understand the articles and books you find. · Ensure that the topic is