Choosing Research Paper Topics: Reading for Information

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Choosing research paper topics that interest you and are viable subjects for a good paper make the difference between a good grade and a bad one. If the topic is not an assigned one, you can discover a topic by reading for information and following a few steps.

  • Search for information
  • Write down questions and possible topics
  • Determine availability of potential sources
  • Choose your research paper topic

Searching for information to choose research paper topics

Searching and reading for information involves looking over applicable course materials, going to the library or conducting online searches. The number of research paper topics possible is endless, so starting with your course books by looking at table of contents, chapter headings and chapter subheadings can help trigger viable topic ideas. Other ways to search for information include the following:

  • Browse an information book, such as an encyclopedia, for background information.
  • Search specialized databases for scholarly journal articles.
  • Look through your school library’s resource section or room.
  • Search for reliable websites that deal with the topic, and read their content.

Make sure to focus on those topics that interest you or in which you have some knowledge. Writing about what you know or can relate to automatically makes your research paper topic a better one.

Writing down questions about possible research paper topics

As you are reading through information for potential research paper topics, make notes of topics that interest you or of questions that cross your mind as you read. Do not focus so much on the quality of the questions or notes; instead, focus on what interests you and what you know. For example, if you are looking for a research paper topic for an abnormal psychology class, your notes might include the following questions:

  • What makes people develop phobias?
  • Why does seasonal affective disorder only affect some people in the same geographic area?
  • Is schizophrenia hereditary?

In addition to your notes, brainstorm with friends, classmates or family – let those ideas bounce around in your head to help you zero in on potential research paper topics.

Something in your learning or life experiences should relate to the topic ideas you identify. For example, someone you know could have a phobia or suffer from seasonal affective disorder – making the answers to your questions mean something on a personal level. Whatever you read for information, look for and jot down keywords that define the topic, and make note of them.

Determining the access to sources for different research paper topics

Once you have a list of questions and possible research paper topic ideas, you must carefully examine the research potential of each. If you cannot find adequate research to write the paper, it does not matter how interesting the topic is to you or your general audience. When evaluation the research potential for each topic, use the keywords you noted to find the answers these questions:

  • Is there sufficient information available in your school library holdings (newspapers, magazines, periodicals)?
  • What about information available online – do you have access? Is the information authoritative or scholarly?
  • Does most of the available information focus on one side of an issue or is it hotly debated?
  • How hard do you have to look for sources – is information hard to find?

Choosing your research paper topic

After evaluating the viable sources of information for your list of topic ideas, make a decision on your research paper topic. The topic you choose does not need to be narrow in scope; forming and narrowing your focus usually comes after deciding on a broad topic. How narrow your topic is largely depends on the scope and length of the assignment. Making sure your topic is the right fit for both you and the assignment involves evaluating how well the topic fits with the following:

  • Your knowledge
  • Your interests or passions
  • The assignment purpose
  • The paper type
    • The paper length

Once you have decided on a topic, you can work on narrowing your focus in order to write the thesis statement.