Choosing a Topic

Choosing a topic is the first part of any research project and may be the most important. By the nature of the research process, you will first start with an idea, begin to ask some questions, turn your thoughts into a concrete thought from which you can really focus your research and explore from your own special angle, with a willingness to be taken in new directions. Don't let the first step bog you down. Here are four important factors you should consider in choosing a topic.

FACTOR ONE: Pick a subject that interests you.

If you enjoy the subject, it will be more enjoyable to spend a few (or more than a few) hours pursuing it. Research, there is no denying, can be extremely tedious, and it will be even more so if you have no interest in the subject you are exploring. Even if you have no control on picking a topic, if necessary, allow yourself to become interested in the subject.

FACTOR TWO: Pick a theme that fits.

Put the topic in the context of the assignment that has been given. Keep in mind the requirements and the expectations your professor has for the project.

FACTOR THREE: Pick a topic that can be researched.

There are many good ideas and interesting topics that do not work well as research topics. Some topics will be too obscure or too recent to have generated much literature that is available in the library. Other ideas may require creative thinking but do not lead themselves to research.

FACTOR FOUR: Match your topic to the scope of the project.

The biggest single problem in choosing a topic is deciding on the size of the subject. The topic should neither be too broad or too narrow. The focus of the topic should fit the size of the project. You will have to work within the framework of amount of time you have. A five minute speech assigned the week before will require a different focus and different level of difficulty than a senior theme that requires a semester's full of work. The difference between a three page paper and a twenty page paper is not just 17 pages.

**The above content originally appeared on the Ithica College Library website. Used with permission.


Commonly Used Topic Lists

Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center
Contains links to articles on controversial social issues. (CPCC Login required)

Documents in the News
Links to government websites on subjects that have recently been in the news.

Hot Paper Topics
Links to website with information on popular term paper topics.

ProCon.org
Also a great source for information on contriversial social issues.


Practical Ways to Narrow or Focus a Topic

Begin by asking some questions:

  • What do I know about the topic? Write down specific aspects you are interestd in.
  • What group of people or what organization shall I focus on, if any?
  • What time period(s) do I want to cover? Or compare?
  • Does a geographic region help the focus of the topic?
  • Do I want to take stand on one side of an issue or another?

Starting the Research Process