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Choosing a Research Topic:  

This guide will help you get started choosing a topic for a research paper in 4 easy steps.

Step 1: Brainstorming

Brainstorm possible topics

  • Consider your personal interests
  • Look at headlines in the news (Google News or the New York Times)
  • Review the list of topics on CQ Researcher or Opposing Viewpoints databases under "Browse Topics" or "Browse Issues" for ideas

Helpful CLC Resources:

Step 2: Keywords

List keywords to define your topic

  • List your research topic as a question
  • Pull out the nouns and important words or concepts in your question - these terms will be the keywords for searching
  • Come up with synonyms, broader or narrower terms or related words for key terms
  • Less is more - don't string together too many keywords in one search


Physicians OR Doctors (synonyms)

Canines OR Pets (broader terms for "Dogs") 

Golden Retrievers OR Hunting Dogs (narrower terms for "Dogs")

Capital Punishment OR Death Penalty (related terms)



Step 3: Background

Gather background information

  • Check the CLC Library Catalog to see what materials are available on your topic
  • Search Academic Search Ultimate for magazine & journal articles
  • Do some general reading in an encyclopedia to get an overview of your topic (check Credo Reference)
  • You can search Wikipedia for general background, but remember, most instructors won't accept it as a source on your research paper/project

Helpful CLC Resources:

Step 4: Refine Your Topic

Is your topic too broad or narrow?

  • If your topic is too broad you will drown in information (for example, "abortion" or "World War II")
  • If your topic is too narrow you will have trouble finding enough information (for example, obscure topics; subjects with little research or data available; limiting focus to a narrowly defined place or time; a very new topic)
  • Be flexible and consider revising or tweaking your choice of topic


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