Landman Library

Choosing a Research Topic

Choosing a Research Topic

Research gives you an opportunity to learn a lot about a topic that interests you. 

Select a topic that:

  • You want to learn more about
  • Fits the assignment
  • Is focused enough to address thoroughly
  • You can clearly articulate 

Using the argument paper in students complete in EN101 as an example, let's look more closely at these elements. 

Does my topic fit the assignment?

You will be researching and writing about a topic around which there is some controversy, disagreement, or difference of opinion. That does not mean that it has to be a two-sided debate, such as whether or not marijuana should be legalized. There is a spectrum of opinions around most issues. Focus on one that is important to you.

For instance, imagine that you are passionate about the environment, and you want to focus on water pollution in your town. This is not a two-sided debate; it’s unlikely that someone would say that they want your town’s river to be polluted. However, there are likely a range of perspectives around what to do and whose money, and how much of it, to spend to address the problem. If there’s debate around a topic, it could be appropriate for your assignment.


Is my topic focused enough to address thoroughly?

Extending that example, you would not be able to thoroughly cover a topic like water pollution in a five page paper. There is simply too much to discuss in so few pages. You would want to narrow the topic.

Asking generative questions like these is one strategy to help you refine your topic: 

  • Who participates? Who is affected?
  • Where do we see examples of this?
  • Is there a notable time period? A trend?
  • What are some possible causes or contributing factors?
  • What are some implications or consequences?
  • What are some conflicts around this topic?
  • Why should your audience care about this topic?

One way to ask yourself questions and keep track of your ideas to focus your topic is to use a concept map. Getting some background information about your topic - even if you are pretty familiar with it - can help you think systematically about it so you can ask good questions.

This short video from UCLA libraries (less than 3 minutes) illustrates how asking questions can help you generate a more focused topic that could be addressed adequately in a limited number of pages.