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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

Examples:

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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