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How to Develop a Research Topic

How do I choose a topic?

The hardest part of research is getting started! Choosing a topic can be intimidating, especially in introductory classes, when you don't really know much about the subject. The most important thing to remember is this: you are doing research, so don't make a statement about what you want to prove and then go looking for evidence to support your claim. Instead, start out with an interest, read some articles on the topic and then take a stance on the subject based on what you have learned.

Here are some tips to get you started:

  1. Think about the topics in your class that have interested you so far. Or, if it is the beginning of the semester, think about what you expect the course will cover and what you expect to enjoy about the class. When you added this class, what made you think it might be interesting?
  2.  Flip through your textbooks and look for chapter titles or subheadings that interest you. Or, look at a magazine or journal (online or in print) in your subject area and look for an interesting article.
  3. Think about controversies or current events in your subject area. Could they lead to a potential research question? If you don't know any controversies or current events for your subject, Google "Controversies in XYZ," "Disagreements in XYZ," or "Current hot topics in XYX" and see if something you find interests you.
  4. Think about what you’re studying in other classes. Are there interesting ways in which they might intersect with or relate to this class?
  5. Talk to your classmates. Find out what ideas they’re considering. Talking to each other is a good way to brainstorm and to figure out what interests you.
  6. Talk to your instructor. They may have suggestions, or can give you examples of the sort of ideas that have made for good papers for other students.

Some other things to consider when choosing a topic: How long does your paper need to be? A shorter paper will need a more narrowly focused idea, and a longer paper a broader one. How much time do you have? If you have several weeks, it’s likely your instructor is expecting you to do a lot of research. Do you need a a particular number or type of references? Scholarly books and articles take time to write and publish, so topics focused narrowly on a very recent event can be problematic.