Choosing a Research Topic
The First Step
Choosing a topic can often be the most challenging part of a research assignment, especially if your instructor asks you to write or talk about anything you want.
The first step is: Define your assignment.
To do this considering the following questions:
- What kind of research project are you doing? (Term paper, speech, debate)
- What is its length? (5 pages, 10 pages)
- How long do you have to complete it? (2 days, 2 weeks, 2 months)
- What kind of resources do you need? (Books, scholarly journals, primary resources, literary criticisms)
Where To Get Ideas
Ideas can come from just about anywhere…
- Start with yourself. Select a topic that interests you… one you know something about or want to know something about.
- Review course materials. Ideas can come from issues and subjects covered in course readings and lectures.
- Conduct preliminary searches in an article database. A quick search in a multidisciplinary article or newspaper database can provide a multitude of topic ideas. Try Academic Search Premier, Lexis/Nexis, or CQ Researcher.
- Ask your instructor. Your instructor can be an excellent source for topic suggestions, as well as recommend readings.
- Check an encyclopedia. Review general and specialized encyclopedia articles. They can provide summaries and bibliographies to get you started on a topic.
- Talk to a librarian. Your librarian can be a great source for topic ideas, as well as provide information about helpful research resources.
Resources on the Web
There are many places on the web that offer resources for choosing a topic. Here are some suggestions:
- Best Information on the Net: Paper Topics - A listing of web sites on various current topics such as affirmative action, the death penalty, and welfare reform.
- Public Agenda Topics - A nonprofit public opinion research and education organization website that contains excellent overviews, research reports and articles on major controversial topics.
- Speakout.com - A non-profit web site that offers transcripts of discussions on issues under broad categories such as energy, environment, food and farming, etc.
Resources at the Library
Ask a librarian! We can help you find topic selection resources in the subject area related to your research assignment.
- Opposing Viewpoints Series - This print series focuses on current controversial topics of debate, presenting pro/con arguments by prominent spokespeople representing different aspects of issues.
Once you’ve chosen a topic, the following handouts may be useful. Availabile via the tabs at the top of this page.
- 5 Steps to Better Library Research
- Constructing a Search Statement
- Navigating the Information Landscape
- Evaluation of Information Sources
Adapted from UC Davis Library
Last modified: December 20, 2010