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Choosing a Research Topic

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 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.
  • - 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.


Helpful Handouts

Once you’ve chosen a topic, the following handouts may be useful. Availabile via the tabs in the left column.

  • 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

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