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Research Paper: A step-by-step guide: 2. Topic Ideas

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Checking assignment requirements

Before you start browsing for ideas, check the assignment requirements carefully to make sure your topic satisfies your instructor's requirements.

  • Topic criteria - Current or historical? Any geographic restriction (such as within U.S., local)?  Related to a specific group (such as teenagers, college students, women)?
  • Types of assignment - Informative, argumentative, or persuasive? A paper or a presentation? Do you need to offer your own opinions?
  • Length of your paper - How many pages? How long is the presentation?
  • Types of sources - Some instructors require students to use scholarly journals and/or sources published within a certain period, etc.
  • Other - Due date, citation style, etc.

All these will affect your choice of topic. For example, if your instructor wants you to write a 10-page argumentative paper related to a historical event in the United States, choose a historical event that is controversial or has aroused debates. Make sure it happened in the United States, and that there is enough information for you to spread it out into 10 pages.

Browsing topic ideas

You can find topic ideas from different sources, such as:

  • Books & Textbooks - table of contents, index
  • Library Databases - SIRS Knowledge Source, CQ Researcher, FACTS on File
  • Magazines & newspapers - summaries, first & last paragraphs of the articles

Looking through the table of contents of your textbook or a book related to your course can give you some ideas for a paper.  You can also use databases -- SIRS and CQ Researcher each have collections of topics that are great for finding ideas (check out the linked videos).   Watch the video below for help on narrowing down a topic:

Databases for topic ideas & background information

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