Choosing good research paper topics in criminology

Whether you’re taking a course to fulfill a sociology requirement or you’re truly interested in social justice issues, you need to choose a research paper theme for your course in criminology and crime. Do you want to look at the legal aspects of the topic, or pick something that relates more directly to current news topics, such as covering school shootings, racial profiling, or police brutality?

There are many aspects to studying criminology. (Credit:

There are many aspects to studying criminology. (Credit:

Once you’ve selected a topic, where do you go for good online resources? Read on for some tips for college students on finding good research paper topics in criminology.

Searching from crime topics in the news

Whether you’re catching your news from an online source, a news periodical, or The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, you’re sure to notice that crime often features among the largest headlines. Investigating how some of those topics are reported on can lead to interesting results.

For example, in the case of school shooting occurrences, a frequently cited number as of news articles in June 2014, was 74 cases of school shootings had been reported since the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, at Sandy Hook Elementary school in December 2012. But where did that number come from? According to Alexander Nacht at, in “Spinning Statistics on School Shootings,” posted June 25, 2014, the number came from a report by Everytown for Gun Safety, a group striving to end gun violence and promote community safety.

Nacht and other researchers found that Everytown for Gun Safety included any instance where a firearm was discharged on school or campus grounds. Suicides and accidental discharges were placed in the same category as mass shootings.

To investigate the number, the researchers “asked the Brady Campaign [to Prevent Gun Violence] for an updated list of ‘major school shootings.’ The Brady Campaign defines ‘major school shooting’ as any incident in which ‘the shooter was directly linked to the school and at least one person was shot on school property.’ It listed 33 school shootings since the Sandy Hook shooting on Dec. 14, 2012, to June 10, 2014.”

Though Nacht and team found further discrepancies, after looking at both the Brady and Everytown list, they categorized 34 of the shootings as “major school shootings,” rather than 74a number many people would agree is still far too many.

Criminology and ethics

Other frequent news topics involve ethical and social justice issues, especially topics like racial profiling. As Earl G. Graves, Sr. noted in his October 2013 article for Black Enterprise,Racial Profiling and Shopping While Black,” there is a very thin line between “the suspect is a black male” and “black males are suspect.” This is true not only in cases such as the killings of Trayvon Martin and Amadou Diallo, but also in recent cases where African American shoppers were “confronted by New York City police officers–and in one case being handcuffed and taken to jail–for the ‘crime’ of shopping while black at Barneys New York and Macy’s.”

Racial profiling can be a serious problem for people of color in everyday situations, whether it’s shopping, walking home at night, or merely having a jammed front door. Such as was the case for Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who was arrested in 2009 for “forcing” his way into his own home when the door jammed. According to Graves, “the battle against racial profiling by law enforcement is one of the most important civil rights issues of today.”

Criminology theory

Criminology also delves into theoretical applications. On the “Research” page of the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Maryland, contributors listed some more abstract topics in criminology, such as:

  • Crime and Justice Decision Making, which looks at the decisions made by offenders, victims, police and courts and the consequences for those choices.
  • Crime Control and Prevention, which involves developing and testing strategies to reduce crime.
  • Life Course Criminology, which “focuses on the interplay of criminal behavior and general life-course development, investigating both the causes and consequences of crime.”

For more at Questia, visit the criminal law, violence, and social issues topics. 

What ideas have you had for crime or criminology research papers? Share your tips in the comments.

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