The first step in writing a paper is selecting a topic. Your teacher may assign a topic or provide a list to choose from or you may choose your own topic. The following points may assist you:
- Be sure you understand the assignment.
- Choose a topic that interests you.
- Make sure you have enough sources to cover the topic and meet the requirements of the paper.
- Identify several back-up topics. Having additional ideas may save time if you are unable to locate information on the original topic.
- If you have many ideas, try to combine them to form one larger topic.
- Still having trouble? Try browsing through books on the subject or an encyclopedia to see if another topic interests you.
What are you going to research?
Sometimes choosing a topic is the biggest hurdle in doing research.
Your instructor may assign a general or specific topic, or the choice may
be up to you. Knowing where to look for ideas will help you find an
Where can you get ideas?
Your interests, the things you have been reading, and
conversations you have had in class or with others are often good sources
background information like general encyclopedias,
subject-specific encyclopedias or dictionaries, or textbooks can be
sources of ideas. Current periodicals may give you an idea of hot research topics. Browsing the shelves in the library is also a good way to get an
idea of topics which have intrigued authors.
What are your information
- When analyzing your assignment, you will also want to consider the type, quantity, and format of information you will need. Answering the following questions may
help you organize your research:
- What kind of assignment do you have to complete? (e.g., 5 minute
oral presentation, 10 page paper, 50 page paper)
- How much information do you need?
- Is currency important?
- What types of publications do you want to read? (newspaper articles,
books, journal articles, diaries, trade publications, etc.)
- What formats do you need? (visual, audio, printed, electronic)
- Is point of view an issue? Do you need opinions?
- How much time do you have?
What are the keywords that describe your topic?
Once you have identified your subject, think about questions your
research might help you answer. State your topic as a question.
Think about the significant terms, concepts, and keywords that describe
your topic. These terms will become the key for searching catalogs,
indexes, and databases for information about your subject.
How did New Deal programs influence the arts in
Federal Aid to the
Narrowing your focus
After you have completed your brainstorming and prewriting, it is a good idea to reread the assignment to be sure you understand the criteria.
It can be tricky to narrow down your topic so that you cover the subject sufficiently, yet provide enough substance and evidence to make your points clear and interesting.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Are my ideas still too broad to be manageable?
- Am I trying to cover too many aspects of the subject?
- Do I need to redefine the main topic and sub topics?
- Do I need to revise the outline?
- In my preliminary research was I able to get a sufficient number of authoritative sources related to my specific focus on the subject?
- Do I need to revisit and redirect my research strategies?
- Am I ready to begin thinking about my thesis (controlling idea)?
Broadening a topic
Topics that are too narrow are fairly simple to fix. Think of parallel and broader associations for your subject to find a broader topic that will be easier to research. Sometimes a topic may be too new and sources to your research questions may not yet exist.
For example, if you want to do a paper on the effect of deforestation on Colombia's long-term ability to feed its citizens, consider the following questions:
- Could you examine other countries or regions in addition to Colombia?
- Could you think more broadly about this topic? Give thought to wider topics like agriculture and sustainable development.
- Who are the key players in this topic? The government? Citizens? International organizations?
- What other issues are involved in this topic? Such as, how can natural resources be allocated most economically to sustain the populace of Colombia?