How to Choose a Great Research Paper Topic
One of the most important steps in writing your research paper is choosing the right topic.
If you choose well, you will:
- spend your time writing about something interesting to you
- meet all the requirements of the assignment
- have some ideas for further study if you are continuing on to more advanced classes in the field
- have a good selection of academic sources which will make writing the paper much easier!
- have more fun!
If you choose poorly, you will:
- have a hard time finding good academic sources, so you will spend more time on research
- find it difficult to write your paper well, because your topic is too broad or too narrow
- run the risk of not meeting the requirements of your assignment
- possibly have to change your topic, creating extra work. Yikes!
Part 1: Brainstorm Topic Ideas
Part 2: Gather as you Go
Take Note of Topic Ideas
While you read, if you see what might be an interesting research paper topic idea or a source for one of the ideas you already came up with, write it down! Add it to your Topics note that you created in the planning stage. Make sure to save the source to Zotero so you will have what you need to cite it later. Use the tags you’ve created (and create more if needed) to track the ideas and sources so you can sort them easily later.
Go Down Bunny Trails
Read widely in the class’s topic – even outside of the assigned reading if you have time. Go to the library and flip through publications on that topic. Just browse until you find an article that you like and understand. Make note of it, save the source, and then see what sources that article cites. Read those sources, and follow the trail and collect these interesting ideas.
If your professor brings in outside research or articles, or cites sources in lecture slides or the syllabus, look at those sources and see if anything interesting stands out. Add it to your collection.
If you see different perspectives on a topic, make note as they might be good for a compare/contrast paper.
Part 3: Connect your Interests to your Research
What Are You Passionate About?
To Write Well, Write What You Know
What other classes are you taking?
Part 4: Narrow and Qualify
Does it meet the requirements for the assignment?
I know this seems like a no-brainer, but sometimes we go too far down the bunny trail and miss the assignment requirements. Check this first!
Is it narrow enough to write well for this length of paper?
Is it significant?
Is it possible to get evidence?
Do you need your sources to be within a particular discipline?
Does your research topic require any special skills?
What are some possible research questions and theses for this topic?
Want More? Here are some university websites with great advice on how to choose a research paper topic:
What topics are you considering for your next research paper? Let me know in the comments below!
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