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Arkansas State University

Starting Your Research Paper: Choosing Your Topic

Time for the dreaded paper? Learn how to get started!

Step 1 - Brainstorm

Here are three easy steps for coming up with amazing topics!

Step One - Brainstorm

Create a list of possible topics.  Don't ever just settle for the first thing you think of.  It's better to spend a few minutes coming up with a good topic that you enjoy.  Also the better thought out your topic, the less frustrating and the less time it will take you to actually do the paper.

Some things to think about:

  • Did your professor give you a list of topics to choose from?

  • What are your personal interests?

  • What have you covered in class?

  • What are the hot issues in current news and magazines?  

Step Two - Review the Assignment

Look over your professor's directions for the assignment: 

  • How many sources are you supposed to cite?
  • What type of assignment are you doing?
  • How long should the finished product be?
  • What type of resources does your professor want you to use? Scholarly material?

These are all important things to think about and directly effect your topic. Research papers often need more resources than PowerPoints. And if your professor doesn't tell you how many sources to cite, a good rule of thumb is at least one source per page of your paper. If you can only find 3 sources on your topic for a ten page paper, you better go back and pick another topic.

Step Three - Briefly Learn About Your Topic

Once you pick your topic, spend a little time learning about it. This is really important to do if you pick a topic that you're not very familiar with. You might find that there is not enough written about your topic and you might need to broaden it. Or you might find that there's so much written that it's overwhelming and you need to narrow it down. Understanding your topic also helps you pick the best resource to search in.

Example: Let's say your professor wants you to write about Helen Duncan. Would you use a nursing database, a biology database, or a history database? If you don't know who Helen Duncan is, you might guess wrong and get frustrated using the wrong resource. Instead, do a quick Wikipedia search to learn more about her. This will help you figure out that a history database is the best source to use.