Writing a research paper part one: How to get started finding research paper topics

Research paper tips

Research paper tips (Image by Alex Proimos from Sydney, Australia.)

When you’re assigned writing a research paper, don’t panic. Get started right away. The sooner you begin, the more time you’ll have to find the best research paper topics, gather information, and polish your paper into a portfolio piece that earns you an A.  Follow this how-to for some tips and resources to help you get off to a good start on your next research paper assignment.

Get started

First, make sure that you completely understand the assignment. Read the description that was given to you by your professor. If you have any questions, be sure to ask and keep asking until you are clear on what is required of you. There’s no sense in working hard only to find that you’ve missed the mark on earning an A.

You may think that all research paper assignments are alike. Wrong! According to the folks at ipl2.org, research papers tend to fall into different categories. In their article titled, “A+ research & writing step by step,” types of research papers can include:

  • The report: This is where you pick one topic from a list provided by your instructor. Your job is to research the topic and report on what you find. The whole purpose of this kind of assignment is to see how well you can do research, analyze information, organize your findings and communicate your conclusions.
  • Issue analysis: This assignment often involves a problem-solution approach to a topic. First you research a particular problem within an area of study. Then you conduct an objective analysis of different solutions.  The purpose is to see how well you can identify the different aspects of the issue and how they relate to the area of study.
  • Persuasive paper: This kind of assignment asks you to research a topic and take a stand for or against.  The purpose is to see how well you can make your argument while addressing opposing views.

Before you get started researching your topic, make sure that you know what approach your professor requires.

Select a research paper topic

Before you get too far into your process, you need to settle on a good research paper topic. This takes some time if you do it right, so the sooner you start, the better. It’s a good idea to begin with a few possible topics and do some reading on each one. This may seem like a waste of time, but it’s really in your best interest.

Even if your professor gives you a topic to start with, you still need to figure out how to narrow it down to a managable research project. Every topic contains subtopics within it that you can use to develop your approach to the subject.

What you want to discover is whether your topic has enough information available for your needs.  Read enough about the topic to get a general understanding, find out the subtopics and develop questions that you can address in your research paper.

Holly Samuels of the Cambridge Rindge & Latin School (CRLS) Research Guide offered tips on “Getting an overview” for your research paper. When it comes to researching possible topics, she recommended that you start by looking at encyclopedias. Not only can you be sure that the information is accurate, you’ll find that encyclopedia articles are organized in ways that can help you plan your paper.

“Take notes on the headings and subheadings that are used to subdivide the information. These can give you some possible ways to help focus the topic of your paper,” Samuels advised.

Before writing a research paper

You’re working pretty hard and you haven’t even started writing the research paper! It’s worth it. All of the preparation in finding the right topic and the right approach will pay off once you start to write. Along the way, be sure to keep track of all the good resources you’ve found.

Another resource to explore is Questia, the top online research and paper-writing tool for students. Not only will you find millions of full-text books and articles, you’ll be able to learn from research tutorials that guide you through the entire process of planning, researching, organizing and writing your research paper.

To view the second part of the research paper series, click here.

Learn more about the research paper process at Questia.

What are your best practices for getting started on a research paper? Tell us about them in the comments below.

21 replies
  1. Zeineb Ayachi says:

    I’d like to participate in a research paper but I don’t have a topic in mind. My supervisor is busy with suprvising both MA and PHd students. Could you please help me have one. Thank you.

  2. OJO Solomon Gboyega says:

    I need help on effects of animated cartoons on achievement and interest among junior secondary school students in mathematics.

    • Claire Moore says:

      You might try searching with keywords such as “children achievement” and cartoons (use the combination of both terms).

      On Questia be sure to search within the academic journal articles because that is where you find papers written about research on the effects of media on children’s academic achievement.

  3. Santosh says:

    I have an interest in philosophical and moralistic teaching or those tend to way of life of human mankind.
    Could you suggest me what age or works should i prefer to read so in up coming time i won’t get difficulty to start my research work.

    Thanks & Regards

    • Claire Moore says:

      It is my experience that phd programs require you to take courses in how to do qualitative and quantitative research. While taking these courses, it is a good idea to do preliminary research on possible topics for your dissertation.

      Because you will spend a lot of time gathering data on your dissertation topic, it often works well to choose a topic that relates to your current job or the job that you wish to do in the future.

      For example, one colleague at the college where I teach did his dissertation on how students use media to learn in their online courses. Because he chose an area that he worked in every day, he had access to students who could provide data for his research.

  4. ARTHUR B.K.TAILLU says:

    I in the final year of the LL.B. course and have to choose an acceptable dissertation topic. The choice of topic is not easy as hundreds of students have written on the limited scope of topics. I’m still on the search.

    • Claire Moore says:

      I’m sorry but I don’t know what LLB is. What I can tell you is that typically phd students have a committee that they have to present to in order to earn their terminal degree.

      If you need help in choosing and researching your topic, it would be a good idea to consult with the members of your committee. They are the ones who will pass judgement on your work.

  5. kakari says:

    i am writing a project work on the topic factor influencing facility managers decision. and the key relevance of the two main strategies (outsourcing and insourcing). kindly help me with literecture concerning this topic.

  6. Vivian de Bruin says:

    I am a Masters Degree student in Knowledge Management. I am currently researching Perspectives on Organizational Change Management (OCM)/Change Management (CM). The intention with my research methodology is to compare theories about OCM. Comparison and critical analysis of change management theories and models, how well they can be implemented in the workplace – the attempts by innovative managers to lead change efforts which could be the ultimate driving factor for success in the organizational change.
    Will the following topic address my research question/problem?:

    Organizational Change in the workplace is essential since it will ultimately enhance organizational performance.
    How many and which theories should I analysis for a critical analysis?

    • Claire Moore says:

      Graduate research aims to cover issues that have not been addressed fully in the current research that exists. After doing extensive reading of the existing research on Change Management, you should be able to identify one or more areas that have not been fully researched as yet.

      It is also a good idea to narrow the focus of your research to a scope that you can easily handle in a 12 to 15 page paper. Based on your comment it appears that you still have a way to go in narrowing the focus of your study.

      Questia has more than 15,000 academic journal articles on the subject of change management. Even if you do a quick run=through of the titles of the articles, you should get an idea of how others have approached their research and some ideas of how you could begin.

      If you do not have a subscription to Questia
      You can sign up for a free trial at http://www.questia.com/free-trial‎

  7. Grace Hicks says:

    I feel that the best practices for getting started on a research paper are, first make sure that you completely understand the assignment, read the description that was given to you, get started right away, know what approach your professor requires, and then select a research paper topic.

  8. christopher owens says:

    your getting a lot of ideals but at the end of the day you should pick a topic that comes from the heart , long as your up to speed with the ways and news of the world you can find a good topic inside your heart. just think what would some one love to know more about
    Just my thoughts


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  1. […] you need a refresher of parts one and two of the research paper series, you can click here for the first part and here for the second […]

  2. […] case you missed the first part of the research paper series, you can click here to view it. To continue on to the third part of the series, click […]

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