If given the option to choose your own research paper topic but you find yourself struggling to choose what to write about, this guide contains some basic guidelines to keep in mind as you choose what to write about, and contains a large list of possible topics to help spark some ideas.
Things to keep in mind:
Keep in mind that there are some topics that are too broad, general, or have nothing new to say. You may want to avoid the usual social issue topics, including: abortion, the death penalty, gun control, euthanasia, violence in video games, steroid abuse, the SATs, the “obesity epidemic,” and marriage equality. These topics often lead to more simplistic research questions or pro/con arguments. Original takes can be interesting, or there may be specific new developments about a topic worth discussing, and some of these topics are included in this guide's list of topics, but be mindful of how you approach them.
While you want to choose something you are interested in, don’t choose something you have already made up your mind about. Doing so will lead to more simplistic arguments where you may overlook ways to make a more nuanced argument or overlook important evidence that doesn’t support the argument you want to make. After all, if you already know the answer to your research question, then why are you researching it?
The best topics will come out of your own curiosity and reading. If you find a source that says exactly what you want to say, however, then you want to change your approach to your topic (because why would you want to say everything someone else has already said). You might think of your task as synthesizing other views into your own view.
This material is adapted from Wendy Hayden and Stephanie Margolin's Research Toolkit at the Hunter College Libraries under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
What is a research question?
A research question is the question around which you center your research. It should be:
As with choosing a topic, you should ask a question about an issue that you are genuinely curious and/or passionate about.
The question you ask should be developed for the discipline you are studying. A question appropriate for Biology, for instance, is different from an appropriate one in Political Science or Sociology. You may also want to discuss your ideas for a research question with your professor. The Reading/Writing Center on campus can also help.
Why is a research question essential to the research process?
Research questions help writers focus their research by providing a path through the research and writing process. The specificity of a well-developed research question helps writers avoid the “all-about” paper and work toward supporting a specific, arguable thesis.
Steps to developing a research question:
This material is adapted from George Mason University's "How to Write a Research Question" Guide under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Keywords are terms that represent the main concepts of your research topic.
These terms are what you will use to search for sources (articles, books, etc.) to support or answer your research question. Keywords can be single terms or a phrase (if using a search engine or database, "put phrases in quotes" to search multiple words as a single term).
The right keywords are "key" to finding good sources.
When you are developing these keywords consider:
Start by identifying the main concepts in your research question:
For example, if my research question is: How is global warming affecting the polar bears of the Arctic?
The main concepts areas here are:
Then brainstorm related terms and synonyms for your concepts:
This material is adapted from Charleston Southern University's Rivers Library "Where to Start Your Research" Guide under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Mind Maps are a great tool for effectively accessing natural creativity, harnessing that creativity for effective problem solving, and for helping to plan and organize essays. Mind Maps work in the same way as your brain, meaning that when you have a thought – this could be an image, a word or a feeling – this instantly sparks off hundreds of connecting ideas. The main branches of the Mind Map can be used in a variety of ways to support thinking about core concepts. By creating a Mind Map to plan your essay, you generate more ideas quickly and, with the radial structure, you can quickly see the connecting topics, main paragraphs and structure. Mind Maps are just a way of representing this process on paper, so start Mind Mapping and you’ll find countless ideas flooding out. When you start Mind Mapping, students should note down any ideas that they have – no matter how crazy or random! This is where the best creative plans come from – so don’t be afraid to be off the wall…
Some possible ways the main branches can be used are as follows:
Research often requires reviewing large amounts of material at a time. Active reading strategies can significantly increase learning new information.
Consider the 5 step SQ3R strategy from Metodes.Iv's Toms Urdze:
Before reading skim the material:
Before reading a section, formulate questions and do the following: