Choosing a Topic

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Trying to decide what to write can be difficult and frustrating. Your professor will usually provide a general topic that reflects the course material; but you will be required to focus on some aspect of that topic. It is up to you to decide the angle to take. Before continuing, please read the following general concepts about choosing research topics.

  • Getting ideas for your topic.
    • Course material: Go back over lecture notes or textbook chapters to find a topic.
    • Brainstorming: Take the general topic and create a concept map for it.  From there you may find some aspect of the topic you would like to explore.
    • News: Yahoo News,, local broadcast news all cover recent events and may pique your interest for further exploration of the story.
    • Internet: There are many reliable educational and current event resources available on the Web that are excellent sources of ideas for selecting research topics. Keep in mind that because of the open nature of the Web, many resources vary in quality.
  • Choose an interesting topic.
    There is more motivation to do a research assignment if there is genuine interest in the topic. If the research assignment is unrestricted, relate the topic to some personal experience or issue of personal relevance. If you have no personal interest in the assigned topic, pick an aspect of the topic you are curious to know more about.

  • Narrow your topic.
    Depending upon the subject and required length of a research assignment, be careful not to choose a topic that is too broad in scope. Focus on a particular event, time, person or group, and/or place.

    "The Media's Influence on Body Image "

    Media comes in various forms such as television, advertisements, movies, and commercials. This topic would be too general and broad to research and cover in a short paper of 5-10 pages. Instead, it would be necessary to narrow the focus of the topic to some smaller aspect of media influence.

    "The Impact of Current Fashion Magazine Advertisements on Female Adolescents' Body Identity"

  • The topic has been narrowed and is more manageable because it focuses on a particular type of media (magazine advertisements), time (current rather than historic), person or group (adolescent female), and place (focus on U.S.).

  • Broaden your topic.
    If you are required to write a long paper (20 or more pages), there should be enough information available about the topic for the paper to be comprehensive and complete. If an obscure person, event, or subject is chosen as the basis for a research topic, it may be difficult finding relevant and accessible material to do effective research.

    "The Impact of Keira Knightley and Mila Kunis on the Body Image of Young Women"

    Yes, Keira Knightley and Mila Kunis are very famous actresses, and many magazine articles have been written about their weight and the message it sends to young girls; but you are unlikely to find scholarly information available solely on their impact on the issue of body-image. You will need to broaden the focus of to include what they represent in order to write an effective paper.

    "The Impact of Movie Industry Beauty Standards on the Body Image of Young Women"

    Altering the focus of the subject matter from one person or issue to some larger aspect of the person or issue (the movie industry), expands the scope of the topic so that more relevant and scholarly information can be found.

Sources that may provide idea for topics on current events:

  • Opposing Viewpoints in Context
    Provides a complete one-stop source for information on social issues. Provides current event topics and the facts as well as the arguments of each topic's proponents and detractors.

  • CQ Press Library
    Provides access to:

    · CQ Public Affairs Collection provides access to material on key public policy topics

    · CQ Researcher covers weekly in-depth original reporting on major, controversial issues with complete summaries and bibliographies

    · CQ Weekly focuses primarily on legislative news and analysis

  • NPR Online
    National Public Radio news provides high quality, non-profit, and non-commercial publicly supported radio news and information programming. Provides in-depth news and features with interviews and commentary.

  • PBS Online
    PBS is a private, non-profit media enterprise owned and operated by the nation's 350 public television stations. It provides non-commercial programs and specials on various subject matters including current news, history, arts and humanities, and science and technology.

  • World Wide Web Virtual Library
    The oldest catalog of the web, the WWVL is run by volunteers who compile pages of key links for particular areas in which they are expert.