How To Choose A Topic For Your Research Paper

For many college students, actually writing a research paper may not be as daunting as trying to choose a topic.

If you are struggling with how to narrow down your choices, read on for some how to advice to get you started.

Choose your research paper topic

Your professor has assigned you a research paper or a midterm essay. Some lucky college students may have an idea in mind already, but it is normal to need some help on how to choose a topic. Start by asking the basic who, what, when, where, why and how questions about your general topic. For instance, if you are writing a paper for an early American history class you would ask—Who: early settlers, What: violence, Where: Jamestown, When: 1630s, Why: control of land, How: destroying Native American settlements.

Another easy way for college students to narrow down their options is to start by performing some general browsing online of a broad topic that interests you. Scanning related links may spark an idea or point you in a direction that works.

Narrow down your subject

It is easy to get paralyzed by the vast number of potential research paper ideas out there for any one class. In their work, Research Papers, 16th edition, William Coyle and Joe Law offered five factors to consider when you are evaluating a possible research paper topic:

  • Narrow down your topic enough so that you can fully develop it in the page/word count you have been allotted. A research paper topic that is too broad will be impossible to cover in 2,000 words.
  • You need to choose a topic that requires research.
  • Pick a research paper topic that you can be objective about. If your strong feelings get in the way, it can hinder the quality of your paper.
  • Opt for an idea that you find interesting, but aren’t already well informed about. Coyle and Law explained, “A research paper should take you into new territory. If you do decide to work with a familiar topic, your aim should be to learn something about it, not to choose something “easy” that will reduce the amount of effort required to complete the paper.” (Coyle/Law, 6)
  • When you choose a topic, don’t get too technical. If the concept is completely unfamiliar, you shouldn’t be writing your research paper on it.

Final how to advice

Author and college professor David R. Williams offered a final bit of wisdom when it comes to how to choose a topic for your next research paper in his book, Sin Boldly! Dr. Dave’s Guide to Writing the College Paper, “Do not try to explain everything; it can’t be done. Even if you think you know everything, avoid the temptation to put it all in every paper.”

He advised college students to pick a specific question and then expand it, but always to be sure to return to the original question/idea at the end of the paper.

For more help on choosing a topic for your research paper, look to Questia’s Topic idea generator.

Do you have any tips for how to narrow down your ideas and choose a topic for a research paper? Let us know in the comments.

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