Selecting a Topic for Your Research Project

First, Understand Your Assignment

Before you start thinking about a topic, know what the assignment requires you to do.

  • Do you have an assigned topic, or can you choose your own?
  • What is the goal of your research project? Possibilities may include:
    • Show cause and effect
    • Compare and contrast two things
    • Take a stand on an issue
    • Conduct original scientific research
  • How long will your paper or report need to be?
  • What kinds of information sources should you use?
  • How many sources must you reference?
  • Which citation style will you need to use in your paper?

Then, look for Something of Interest

Once you understand what's required, you can begin looking for topics that will fit within the scope of the assignment.

Look for a topic that interests you, is about something you care about, or has personal relevance in your life in some way.

  • Browse through newspaper headlines and magazines for something that catches your interest.
  • Keep an eye out for possible topics while watching TV or listening to news reports on the radio.
  • Jot down a note when you find yourself asking, “I wonder why/what/how__________” in your class, while studying, or any time.
  • Browse through specialized encyclopedias on broad areas of interest for possible ideas.
  • Brainstorm. Your instructor can probably show you a couple of good brainstorming techniques.
  • Browse online resources, such as:
  • Look through the books on the Library's "Topics Carrel"

Now, Do Some Preliminary Background Research

Gain a basic, broad understanding of your subject. This way, you'll begin to learn the language of your topic (which will help you to find more information), and you'll discover aspects to your subject which will allow you to focus your research.

Next, Narrow Your Topic

Click here for strategies for narrowing your topic.