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ENGL 101 English Composition I: Topic Development

Research Topics

The most important part of the research process is to develop a research question. Often, we start with a general idea, but general ideas are too broad to research. Use reference sources like the ones listed on this page to help you narrow down your focus. You may begin with a tentative thesis in mind, but reading secondary sources should help you refine this thesis and shape your paper.

Here are some guidelines to consider when selecting, developing and refining a topic.

  • Explore a subject, whether you are exploring a new topic or an aspect of a known topic that you are unfamiliar with. Avoid writing about a subject where you have a position staked out and where you find evidence that only supports your viewpoint. That is not research; that is simply confirming a pre-existing point of view.
  • Find something unique. Avoid overused pro/con topics like abortion, capital punishment, gun control, etc. There is little to add to those points of view that hasn't already been stated before. Instead, think of the narrower implications or consequences that have resulted from these or other debates or decisions.
  • Choose a topic where controversy exists. For example, everyone would agree that negative body image in young women and homelessness are bad things--what's a topic that makes you stop, think, and argue?
  • Find a topic the right size. For example, the film industry is too big to research, but examining the ratings for a specific film is too small to research. A better research topic would be "Does the ratings system penalize content related to sex more than violence? "

Reference Books

Reference books, primarily general and specialized encyclopedias, are the ideal starting point for doing research. Reference sources provide you with the necessary background information to give you a fundamental understanding of a topic. They can also help you refine or focus a topic and acquaint you with the appropriate terminology. At Kirk Library we collect subject-specific encyclopedias, so you can get background information on topics across nearly all fields of study. These and other reference books must be used in the library. Some important reference books include:

Online Reference Sources

 We also provide access to online reference materials. Try one of these:

Developing a topic

Generating Search Terms

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