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Writing Research Papers: Finding/Developing Topics

This guide is intended to provide help with topic selection, research tips and strategies, and citing sources.

Hot Topics

If you're in a subject-based class, such as Psychology or Ethnic Studies, you'll probably want to choose a topic that's relevant to the content of the class. You can often get topic ideas from the textbook or your instructor's lectures. But sometimes you might not be sure what topic to choose. Some of the library's databases provide lists of hot current events topics that you can browse for ideas. The databases also provide research materials you can use, such as articles from books, magazines, and newspapers.

SIRS icon SIRS Knowledge Source: Leading Issues
Full text articles and internet resources on social issues, science, history, government, the arts and humanities. The Leading Issues list provides a convenient way to browse major topic areas.

 
CQ Researcher icon CQ Researcher
Explores a single "hot" issue in the news in depth each week. Topics range from social and teen issues to environment, health, education and science and technology. You can browse by date, topic, or pro/con list.
Opposing Viewpoints icon Opposing Viewpoints
One-stop source for information on social issues . Includes articles, topic overviews, statistics, primary documents, links to websites, and full-text magazine and newspaper articles.

For more resources on controversial issues, law and legislation, statistics, and public opinion, see our Web guide to Current Events.

Mind Mapping

Sometimes you can do some creative brain-storming to get better focus on your research topic. Try creating a "mind map" either on paper or by using an online tool such as Bubbl.us.

Here is an example of a mind map based on Whip It (2009), a film that features roller derby. Each one of the "bubbles" could be shaped into a search term. The ideas expressed in each bubble can also be mapped to specific information resources such as newspapers online, encyclopedias, journal databases, and books.

mind map

Developing a Topic

Topic Scope

Do preliminary reading to become familiar with many facets of the initial topic you have chosen.

If you find too much information, you might need to narrow your topic.

  • Narrow the time period
  • Narrow it to a certain person or group of people
  • Choose one aspect (artistic, legislative) or focus within your topic

 Too little information? Broaden your topic.

  • Make your search terms less specific
  • Use common words to describe your topic
  • Check a thesaurus to find other terms

 

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