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Research: Select and Develop a Topic: Selecting A Topic

Here are tips for a successful research project

Let's Begin

Step 1: Understand the Assignment

  • Type of assignment:  essay, research paper, speech, presentation?
  • Style of assignment:  casual, formal, scientific, other? 
  • Are you making an argument for/against a topic, or just exploring an issue?
  • What evidence do you need to support your ideas?  (books, articles, web sites, images, etc.) 
  • Rules of the paper:  length, font, number of resources used, etc.

Step 2: Identify a Preliminary Topic

  • State your topic idea as a question. For example, if you are interested in finding out about use of alcoholic beverages by college students, you might pose the question, "What effect does use of alcoholic beverages have on the health of college students?"
  • Identify the main concepts or keywords in your question. In this case they are alcoholic beverages, health, and college students.
  • Be aware of overused ideas when deciding a topic. You may wish to avoid topics such as, abortion, gun control, teen pregnancy, or suicide unless you feel you have a unique approach to the topic. 

Step 3: Preliminary Exploration

Gather background information on your topic, such as important names, dates, places, etc.  Find articles that summarize the topic and that explain key concepts.

Define terminology and relevant keywords to your topic. 

This preliminary exploration will also help you identify any distinctive words, phrases, equivalent terms or variant spellings of key terms associated with your topic. 

Developing a list of keywords will also help you narrow or broaden the focus of your topic as you begin to look for relevant resources for your final project. Sometimes different words can describe the same topic. Try them out in order to determine which keywords will bring the results you want. Brainstorm related terms.

Video: Picking Your Topic IS Research

Video: How to Develop a Good Research Topic

Coulter Library, Onondaga Community College, Syracuse, NY