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Research Toolkit: Choosing a Topic
Tools, techniques, and resources to help you find the information you need.
Meet Mona. Mona was just assigned an argumentative research paper for her composition class. The paper is due in three weeks and Mona doesn't know where to begin. Don't panic Mona!
The first step in choosing a research topic is to look at your assignment requirements. What kind of paper are you writing? Has your instructor provided a list of acceptable topics? Or even a list of topics you aren't allowed to use? How long does the paper need to be? How many sources do you need? Do you need specific types of sources?
The next step is to examine your interests. What are you curious about? What is affecting your life right now? Research is easier when you can explore a topic that matters to you. Mona is passionate about tacos. She decides to explore this interest and see if she can connect it to a topic that would meet the requirements of her research paper.
The third step to choosing a research topic is to narrow the focus of your topic. Mona does this by searching broadly to see how she can narrow her interest, tacos, into a research topic. She uses the 5 Ws strategy to create questions to help her explore the topic and create a mind map. The 5 Ws are asking questions such as: who, what, when, where, and why. Using her mind map, Mona decides to narrow her topic by exploring what makes a truly authentic taco.
She doesn't know all of the details about her topic or exactly what she's going to say yet, but that's okay. Now she can focus on her research to find more specific sources on her topic that will inform her and help her plan the structure of her paper.
Make sure your topic meets the assignment requirements. If you are unsure, ask your professor for feedback.
Choose a topic that is interesting to you. Curiosity is an excellent motivator!
Choose a topic that others have written about in order to find enough resources.
Read through your course readings and notes for ideas.
Browse Reference Books & Databases for Ideas
If you're stuck choosing a topic, maybe you need a little inspiration. Browsing through lists of topics and databases of topics that other people have written about can help you get unstuck.
Look at Wikipedia to collect background information. Note: Wikipedia is not an authoritative source to cite because the authors' expertise is not always clear. Nevertheless, Wikipedia can be useful to gain an initial understanding of your topic.