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Research: A Step-by-Step Guide: Topic Development

This guide walks you through the steps of the research process. You'll learn about tools you can use for researching any topic, how to evaluate the sources you find, and how to get help. Especially useful for English 102 students.

What should I write about?

Need ideas? Try CQ Researcher, a weekly publication covering social issue topics. Also look at the list of popular topics found on the database called Opposing Viewpoints. Another good place to look for ideas is the Idea Generator.

 

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 encyclopedias 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? "

Developing a Paper Topic

Is Your Topic Too Broad?

If you are finding too much information, your research topic may be too broad. Consider narrowing it to a more specific topic, using one or more of these limiters:

Time Civil War, Iron Age, 1920s, 18th Century
Location Europe, U.S., Denver, urban, eastern
Population age, race, gender, nationality, ethnic group, occupation
Event or Aspect government regulations related to cloning, Battle of the Bulge in WWII
Person or Group college students, Democrats, Republicans


Broad Topic: Global warming

Narrower Topic: How will climate change impact sea levels and the coastal United States?

Is Your Topic Too Narrow?

If you are finding too little information, your topic may be too narrow, specialized, or current. Use these strategies to broaden your topic.

Generalize

If your topic is the health effects of fracking on the Ft. Lupton community, broaden your topic to all Colorado communities or the United States.

Currency

If your topic is very current, there may not be books or journal articles available yet. Choose an alternative topic that is not so recent.
Database Choice Use other databases in your subject area or consider databases in a related subject area which might cover the topic from a different perspective.
Synonyms Use a thesaurus to find synonyms for your topic. When reading background information, note the terminology that is used.
Related Explore related issues.
Expand / Remove Expand or remove: location, time period, aspect, event, population, person/group.

 

Narrow Topic:  Does watching cartoons with action violence cause aggression in children under age five?

Broader Topic:  Does viewing violent TV shows have negative effects on young children?