If given the option to choose your own research paper topic, you will want to choose a topic with a couple of things in mind:
- Choose a topic that is relevant and current: There needs to be a reason why you need to research this topic at this particular point in time. If choosing a topic within a discipline, look at recent issues of the journals in that discipline to think about what topics scholars in the field are concerned about. In a beginning composition course, where you are writing about a social issue, look at headlines in The New York Times or other internet media sources: What events have transpired that makes a particular issue important right now? What issues are there important conversations about?
- Choose a topic that interests you: The best research projects come out of curiosity on the part of the researcher. You might think about topics that effect your community, however you define it, such as topics important to college students. You might think about a topic that affects your future profession. Or, you could come across something in your daily reading or daily life that you are curious about, and go from there.
- Choose a topic that leads to complex questions: You generally want to avoid topics that provoke questions that have simple yes/no answers.
Keep in mind that there are some topics that are too broad, general, or have nothing new to say. You generally want to avoid the usual social issue topics, including: abortion, the death penalty, gun control, euthanasia, violence in video games, steroid abuse, the SATs, the “obesity epidemic,” and marriage equality. These topics often lead to more simplistic research questions or pro/con arguments.
While you want to choose something you are interested in, don’t choose something you have already made up your mind about. Doing so will lead to more simplistic arguments where you may overlook ways to make a more nuanced argument or overlook important evidence that doesn’t support the argument you want to make. After all, if you already know the answer to your research question, then why are you researching it?
The best topics will come out of your own curiosity and reading. If you find a source that says exactly what you want to say, however, then you want to change your approach to your topic (because why would you want to say everything someone else has already said). You might think of your task as synthesizing other views into your own view.
Activity: Using a Reading to Choose a Research Topic
Research Toolkit by Wendy Hayden and Stephanie Margolin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.