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A Guide to the Research Process

Need More Help Brainstorming?

If you're having trouble creating a list of topics, try the following:

Choosing a Topic

Choosing a Topic can present an intimidating challenge.  Start by gathering the following tools:

  • A description of the assignment
  • Your textbook and other materials associated with the course
  • A blank sheet of paper or Microsoft Word document

Review the assignment description.  Does your professor give you a specific topic to cover, or are you responsible for choosing the subject?  Ask yourself:

  • What kind of assignment is it - 5 minute oral presentation, 10 page paper, 50 page paper?
  • Do you need to include specific types of sources (e.g. scholarly journal, book, etc.)?
  • When is the assignment due? How much time do you have to research?
  • Is currency of information important?
  • Is point of view an issue? Do you need opinions?

Keep the assignment requirements in mind as you start to consider topics.  Take the blank sheet of paper, using your textbook and other materials as a starting point, begin brainstorming topics. 

  • What do you find interesting about the topic your professor provided?
  • If you were not given a specific topic, what do you find interesting about the course?
  • Are there any controversial aspects to this topic or area of study?
  • List any questions you have about this topic or area of study.
  • Browse through your textbook for possible topics.
  • Discuss possible research topics with friends and classmates.  

Narrowing Your Topic

Some topics are too broad to be a successful paper topic, especially if you are only writing a 5 to 8 page paper.  For example, tackling a topic like Healthcare or Fashion without choosing a more specific focus will leave you with a large pile of relevant research to sort through.  Let's narrow these topics by focusing on a specific area of interest.

Narrowing Concept Healthcare Fashion

People - Is there a particular group of people within this topic that interests you?  Consider age, race, gender, political affliation, educational background, etc.

Pregnant Women Men
Place - Consider geographic elements such as countries, regions, etc, or explore situational elements such as hospitals or affluent neighborhoods. Western World Italy
Time Period - Are you interested in modern or historic issues?  Can you name a specific time period? Last 500 Years 1600s
Point of View - There are many different ways to consider a topic.  Some examples include Legal, Psychological, Historical, Religious, Political and Scientific. Historical Religious


Final Topics: Western childbirth rituals in the last 500 years AND Men's religious apparel in 17th century Italy.

Don't be Afraid to Adjust Your Topic

As you progress through the research process, you may discover a new aspect to your topic that you would like to explore or change your opinion on the topic.  It's natural to adjust your topic based on your research.  Allowing your research to guide you, rather than forcing your research to fit with your opinion, will lead to a much stronger paper.