Skip to Main Content

COMM 230: Politics, Citizenship, and Communication (Dr. Burgchardt)

Choosing a Topic

If you find yourself struggling to choose what to write about, this page contains some basic guidelines to keep in mind as you choose what to write about.

Things to keep in mind:

  • Choose a topic that is relevant and current: There needs to be a reason why you need to research this topic at this particular point in time. If choosing a topic within a discipline, look at recent issues of the journals in that discipline to think about what topics scholars in the field are concerned about. In a beginning composition course, where you are writing about a social issue, look at headlines in The New York Times or other internet media sources: What events have transpired that makes a particular issue important right now? What issues are there important conversations about?
  • Choose a topic that interests you: The best research projects come out of curiosity on the part of the researcher. You might think about topics that effect your community, however you define it, such as topics important to college students. You might think about a topic that affects your future profession. Or, you could come across something in your daily reading or daily life that you are curious about, and go from there.
  • Choose a topic that leads to complex questions: You generally want to avoid topics that provoke questions that have simple yes/no answers.

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.

Article Types and Genres

Article types of journalism include:

  • News articles
  • Features
  • Portraits
  • Reportages
  • Interviews
  • Editorials
  • Columns
  • Reviews
  • Essays

Journalism genres include (but are not limited to):

  • News journalism
  • Business/trade journalism
  • Culture journalism
  • Celebrity/people journalism
  • Investigative journalism
  • Gonzo journalism
  • Citizen journalism
  • Sports journalism
  • Science journalism
  • Photojournalism
  • Watchdog journalism

Knowing Your Audience

Depending on the genre of journalism, you may have very different target audiences.  Here are some communication strategies from Kathleen A. Hansen and Nora Paul at the University of Minnesota School of Journalism and Mass Communication:

In some ways, the audience for journalistic messages is the most concrete and pre-determined of the three communications professions’ work. Journalists write for publications or produce reports for media outlets that have a great deal of information about their subscribers or viewers. With the ability to track digital readership, journalists know what articles people read. At the start of the message analysis process journalists must ask a set of questions about their target audience that will help them identify the treatment of the topic about which they will be writing and make decisions about the kind of reporting they must do.

Understanding the audience that uses the publication or media outlet for which they are producing a news report will help clarify some of the following questions:

  • WHO: Who reads / views the publication? Who would be interested in this topic? Who needs to know about this topic? Who is the media organization interested in attracting with its offerings?
  • WHAT: What would the potential audience member want to know about the topic? What kind of report would be most informative or helpful for the audience? What kind of information will be useful? What does the audience already know about this?
  • WHERE: Where else do people interested in the topic find information? (For freelancers) Where should I pitch my story idea?
  • WHEN: When does the audience need to get this information (is this fast-breaking news, or something that will be used as analysis after the event?)
  • WHY: Why does the audience need to know this? Why does the audience care? Sometimes the audience member just wants to fill empty minutes with a news message (reading news briefs on a mobile device while standing in a line or eating alone at a restaurant). Sometimes the audience member needs to answer a specific question (who won the baseball game this afternoon? when does the movie start?). Each of these “why” questions suggests a different strategy for the communicator.
  • HOW: How can we best communicate to the audience? How much background do they need to understand what we are writing about? How technical can we be? How might the audience react to this report?