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Choosing a Research Topic:  

This guide will help you get started choosing a research topic for a research paper in 5 easy steps.

Step 1: Brainstorming

Brainstorming possible topics.

  • Consider your personal interests.
  • Look at the headlines in the news or on Google News or Yahoo! News
  • Review the list of topics on CQ Researcher or Opposing Viewpoints databases under Browse by Topic

Helpful CLC Resources:

Step 2: Assess the Assignment

Review the Assignment Requirements.

  • What kind of assignment is it?  (oral presentation, written paper, video)
  • What resources  do you need? (visual, audio, print/book, electronic)
  • Is is argumentative, pure research or compare/contrast?
  • What types of research/supporting evidence does it require? (encyclopedic, scholarly, current news)
  • How much time do you have?


Step 3:Keywords

List keywords to define your topic.

  • List your research topic as a question.
  • Pull out the nouns in your question.  These terms will become the key for searching for information in library databases. 
  • Come up with synonyms, antonyms and associated words for those key terms.

         Dogs are smarter than cats.

         Dogs: canine, Golden Retriever, pets

         Cats: felines, domestic pets, Persians

         Smart: intelligence, IQ, clever, bright

Step 4: Background

Gather Background Information on Your Topic

  • Do some general reading in an encyclopedia to get an overview of your topic.
  • Check out Credo Reference for excellent background sources.
  • Go ahead and check out Wikipedia to read general background but remember, most instructors won't accept it as a source on your research paper/project.

Helpful CLC Resources:

Step 5:Refining your Topic

Is your topic too broad? Too narrow?

If your topic is too broad you will drown in information overload! 

Examples of broad topics: "teenage pregnancy" or "the war in Iraq" -

If your topic is too narrow you will drive yourself crazy trying to find useful information. 

Examples of narrow topics: "What are the effects of raising CTA prices on the working poor?" or "Do Golden Retrievers make better therapy dogs?".

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