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Focusing Topics" page of the "English 1000" guide.
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Finding/ Focusing Topics Print Page
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Places To Go Looking for Topic Ideas

Sources listed under Background Sources also make good places to get topic ideas.

  • CQ Researcher  
      
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    Provides in-depth, objective, analytical reports on the most current and controversial issues of the day.
  • Gale Virtual Reference Library  
      
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    Gale Virtual Reference Library is a database of encyclopedias, almanacs, and specialized reference sources for multidisciplinary research.
  • Public Agenda
    Public Agenda is a non-partisan organization that provides research that bridges the gap between American leaders and public opinion on key issues in American life.

From Idea to Topic: "Cubing" or Action Verbs Technique

One way to move from a "vague idea" to a doable paper topic is to write your vague idea at the top of a page, and then, briefly:

  1. Describe it
  2. Compare it
  3. Associate it
  4. Analyze it
  5. Apply it
  6. Argue for/against it

Do any of these aspects seem especially useful with regard to your topic?  Do any common themes appear?  Keep going back to it as you read up on your topic.

     

    Focusing on the INTERESTING

    Your paper's focus and thesis should strike you and your reader as interesting.  

    Exactly what is "interesting" depends on both topic and scholarly field, but it usually involves something the reader has some prior awareness about, but with some twist: a previously unexplored aspect or an unexpected finding.  Another way to put it is that  interesting is the middle ground between obvious ("duh") and meaningless ("huh??")

    One way to think about an interesting approach to your topic is to think of your topic in terms of a contrast:

    Something that  appears _____  is actually ______.

    ...universal...true only within a culture (sociology, anthropology)
    ...healthy...unhealthy (medicine, psychology)
    ...new...similar to the past (history, politics)
    ...just...unjust (ethics)
    ...effective...ineffective
    ...a causal relationship...just a correlation

    ...insignificant...important

    ...simple...complex

    ...unrelated...related

    Any of the above patterns can work in reverse as well.

    Ex. Something that appears to be important may turn out to be unimportant: "Contrary to popular belief, there is actually no significant relationship between stretching before exercise and reduction of injuries during exercise."

     

    Video:From Idea to Topic to Search Strategy: Concept Mapping Technique

    INTERESTING Thesis Statement Examples

    • Certain modern technologies have created a world in which poverty is associated with obesity to an extent unimaginable before the Second World War.  (insignificant vs important; new vs. similar to past)
    • A growing body of research suggests that aerobic exercise not only improves physical health but enhances learning and even bolsters mental and emotional well-being. (simple vs complex, related vs unrelated)
    • While diet and exercise have an obvious impact on obesity, new research also shows that lack of sleep may also contribute to obesity. (simple vs complex, insignificant vs important)

    More examples of thesis statements and how to write them:

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