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Choosing a Topic

This guide will help you select a topic and broaden or narrow your topic.

Choosing & Developing a Topic Steps

Before choosing a topic, make sure you understand your assignment and what your instructor is asking for.  If you have questions, make sure to ask your instructor for clarification.

1. Choose a subject area that interests you and that will interest the readers. Try to avoid topics that are overly used such as abortion or gun control. It is important to choose a topic that is academic in nature - something that people will be doing research on. If your paper is an argumentative/persuasive paper, you need to pick one that is controversial or that people feel passionate enough to argue about or to do research on (otherwise you'll have a hard time finding sources).



2. Do some background research on any subjects that you are interested in using encyclopedias and websites. This will provide you with an overview so that you gain a better understanding of the subject area and you can see what issues are related. Background research can also help you decide what way to focus on a subject area. For example, you might be interested in the subject of social media. If you look social media up in an encyclopedia it might talk about issues related to it such as privacy or bullying. You then might decide to focus on the topic of social media and privacy.



3. It is a good idea to state your topic in the form of a question to stay focused on what it is that you are trying to explain or prove. For example, if you want to do research on advertising and body image among teenage girls, you might ask:

          What impact does advertising have on the body image of teenage girls?



4. When you come up with a topic, choose the main concepts in your research question (for the question above it would be "advertising", "body image", and "teenage girls") and do an initial search with them in the Library catalog or databases. If you are getting way too many hits, you might need to narrow your topic more. If you are not getting enough hits, you might need to broaden your topic.

Some common pitfalls include choosing a topic that is too:

          broad                          narrow                          recent                        local

You want a manageable topic that is of enduring interest to you - and to others.



5. Once you are sure you have a manageable topic that is interesting and that has enough research out there you can use in your paper, create a thesis statement. This will be an answer to your research question or a statement that explains the purpose of your research.



This video is really helpful in explaining how to create a really good research question:


Background Research

Encyclopedias are good places to go for for background information, definitions, and to learn various aspects of a topic. The Library has two online reference book collections that you can find articles on your topic in. When searching them, just enter your topic as a search term. From off campus, log in with your MEID and password.


These books have chapters on choosing and refining a topic.

Choosing & Developing a Topic Websites

Choosing a Topic (Purdue's Online Writing Lab) provides a good introduction on understanding your assignment and choosing a topic.

Selecting a Research Topic (WSU Stewart Library) gives on overview on steps you can take to choose a topic.