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How to Choose a Research Paper Topic

Paper topic


The first step is to understand the assignment of your academic writing. Your instructor should set out guidelines on the expectations and objectives of the project. Ask them to clarify any unclear parts.

When choosing your own topic, a good place to start is with an area you have a genuine interest in. Consider your passions. A natural fascination with a subject is part of the fuel that drives your project forward. But while it’s good to be ambitious, be careful of overextending yourself. A topic which is too technical or specialized may be difficult to support for the first research paper writing.

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The next step is to brainstorm ideas in the field you would like to conduct your research. Record every idea you can think of. Make notes on how you could develop clarity of certain concepts. Use grids, mind maps, and other strategies to inspire good ideas. An advantage of writing things down on paper is you spot patterns in your thought process.

Start grouping information from the beginning. Many students use highlighters, sticky notes, or cards to arrange ideas. This technique reveals the stronger points and gives direction to brainstorming. Finally, when you have a healthy quantity of data, use elimination to gradually cut ideas that are weak or difficult to develop.

Writing Tip: The topic you pick initially may not be the paper you finally write. This is because it will evolve as you conduct research, and you may select a different angle to the one you planned at first.

Focus the Topic

Once you have an idea of the subject you want to look into, make sure it isn’t too vague. If it is, use this system to bring it into focus.

  • Too wide:

Social media is changing the way we live

  • Narrow it down by asking yourself which part of social media is having a particular effect on our lives.

Facebook is changing the way we live

  • This idea is more specific, but it is still unclear with regards to “the way we live.” We can improve the topic by asking, “What part of our lives is affected by Facebook?”

Facebook is changing the way we communicate

  • Continue asking questions about elements of your topic until you reduce it to a specific concept that warrants investigation.

Facebook is popularizing communication with strangers

Finalize the Topic

The final step is to obtain more information on a potential topic. As you do this, use a questioning method to decide if the topic is worth pursuing. Ask yourself -

  • Who is the audience, and will they be interested in the topic?
  • Where can I find strong support for my ideas?
  • What has already been researched?
  • Why does this topic need more investigation?
  • What issues connected to it are controversial, debatable, or unproven?
  • What interests me about the material, and what are my opinions on it?

The answers to these questions will give a clear indication of how to proceed. You may realize the issue won’t attract much interest, or it lacks credible sources. When you discover plenty of work has already been done and you cannot add more to current findings, it is advisable to change your approach.

Here is where advice from your instructor or your peers is invaluable. They can suggest alternatives that hadn’t occurred to you. After you have a new topic, analyze your choice again and make sure it is strong enough for a whole paper. When you are satisfied with the end results, you are ready to start the research process.

Research paper guide


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