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Picking a topic is research

What should I write about?

Having the freedom to select ANY TOPIC you want for your paper or presentation is exciting as well as a bit terrifying.

Choose a topic that:

  • interests you
  • is appropriate to the assignment
  • has previously been written about as you will have to cite sources
  • appropriate to the length and depth of the assignment

Complete the choosing a topic tutorial for more assistance.

Help choosing a topic

Do some preliminary research on the topic you've selected.

  • Want information on controversial topics or pro/con discussions of issues? Start at CQ Researcher or try
  • Want news and insights on a given topic? New York Times Topics
  • Want to see how your topic is discussed in scholarly journals, magazines, and newspapers? Search Academic Search Complete
  • Want to find additional keywords or aspects of your topic? Try looking in Wikipedia or doing a Google Search

Narrowing your topic

Narrowing a topic requires you to be more specific about your research interest and can help you to develop a thesis.

Questions to Help  Narrow Your Topic

  • Who? You may want to focus on a specific person/group (women, male college students, infants).
  • What? Pick a specific aspect of a topic that interests you.
  • Where? Topics can look different in different parts of the country/world, consider choosing a specific geographic area.
  • When? While most of your topic will be focused in the present, you may want to consider a historical time period
  • Why? Why do you think this is an important/interesting topic?

Complete the Narrowing Your Topic tutorial for additional assistance

Concept map

Usually your initial idea or topic will be too large for your assignment. It is helpful to know a few things about narrowing a topic into a manageable research question. Creating a concept map is one technique you can use to transform a broad topic idea into something narrower. A concept map is a way to visually display the concepts and relationships among many ideas.

To create a concept map"

  • First, write down your main idea
  • Next, think of some issues related to your central idea
  • Then, for each issue think of sub-concepts that relate to it
  • Select the issue that you are most interested in and begin to generate a list of research questions

Here is an example of a concept map on the topic of immigration.

Concept map on US Immigration

Adapted from Intro to Library Research, University of Minnesota Libraries. To see the full tutorial go to Intro to Library Research