Before you even start with writing a research paper, you must go through the challenge of finding a good topic to spend the next few weeks working on. There are many strategies to achieving this, from brainstorming ideas with classmates to discussing your thoughts with your instructor. There is no right or wrong way, as long as you develop a topic that is neither too narrow nor too broad that you can’t complete the assignment. Here are four things that make finding a research topic and the writing process a lot easier:
At the top of the list is finding or developing a topic from a subject that already interests you. While you may be interested in the subject of sports you probably aren’t interested in all sports. Let’s say, then, that you are most interested in American Football. Practice freewriting on the subject and you’ll find that you begin to write more focused rough phrases on a particular subtopic. At this point you may find that your interest in sports has narrowed to the specific topic of illicit drug use among first and two-year players.
Another strategy for developing a refined and narrow research paper topic is to ask questions. Using the example from above, what specifically would you like to know about drug use among first and two-year players? Do you want to know what kinds of drugs are being used? Are drug users entering the their professional lives as habitual users or do they develop the habit because of the sudden change in their lives? These kinds of questions probably don’t have answers waiting for you, so they would make for great research topics if you wanted to go in one of these directions.
Once you’ve had a chance to brainstorm some topic ideas, you can conduct a library or database search for more related subtopics you might find interesting or helpful to your work. Most academic search engines will provide keyword search suggestions. Try these keywords and look up a few of the titles in the search results. Even if you don’t base your research topic on these exact sources, you may find that one or two of them have some key statistics that support your ideas.
Some students find it a challenge to take their general topic to a narrow or focused one. One of the hesitations is that students fear that if they narrow their topic too much they won’t be able to find enough resources to use in their paper and will not be able to meet the minimum page requirements. While it is important to make sure you have enough sources, a topic that is too broad is simply uninteresting and will usually not be well-received by your professor and peers. Look at your topic and take one or two keywords and replace them with specific but related words. Instead of “cats of the old world” try “Persian cat breeds in 17th century Europe”. The latter is a far more interesting topic that is still manageable.
These are all good examples of ways to develop original and interesting topics for a research project, but there are several others you can employ. If you still have trouble developing a topic then don’t hesitate to take your ideas to your professor or discuss them with some of your classmates. You may find that simply talking about your ideas will get your creative juices flowing, providing you with that extra little push you need to come up with a great topic.
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