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The Research Process

Choose a Topic

To find a topic of interest to you, you may want to consult:

  • Course materials (Textbook, handouts, etc.)
  • Instructor and/or peers
  • Personal interests
  • Web sites
  • Library databases, such as Opposing Viewpoints for suggestions of topics relating to current events. Click the "Browse Issues" link.

Be sure your topic is of manageable size and appropriate for the assignment.

Turn your topic into a question. This will help focus your topic.

  • For example, if you were interested in video/electronic media and its effect on children, you might ask: does playing violent video games lead to violent behavior in adolescents?
  • What do you anticipate might be the answer to this question? What are you trying to prove in your paper or what side are you defending? In other words, what is your thesis statement? For example, "I don't believe playing violent video games alone leads to violent behavior in adolescents, however, it may contribute to already violent tendencies.
  • List several reasons for your answer to this question, and several reasons someone might have for answering the question in an different way. These reasons could become points on your outline for your paper.

Reference Starting Points

Try a reference tools for: 

  • Expert-written articles
  • Topic organization
  • Bibliographies

A reference database you might use: 

Narrowing Your Topic

A question that is too broad may retrieve too much information. Here are some strategies for narrowing the scope of a question. They may be used individually or in combination.



Internet Security Topic



Since 1990? This year? In the future?

Current Internet security initiatives.



Local social norms & values, economic & political systems, or languages.

Internet security initiatives in the U.S




Gender, age, occupation, ethnicity, nationality, educational attainment, species, etc.

Filtering software and childrens' access to Internet pornography



Social, legal, medical, ethical, biological, psychological, economic, political, philosophical? A viewpoint allows you to focus on a single aspect.

The constitutionality of Internet filtering technology

(From USC Libraries' Web site, based on a Universtiy of Washington tutorial.)

On the other hand, if your topic is too specific or specialized or new, it will be difficult finding enough information to write your paper.

Useful Web Sites for Choosing a Topic

Biography Research

When choosing an individual as a subject, find someone who interests you because of his or her accomplishments, achievements in adverse circumstances, brilliance, etc. etc.

TIP: Make sure there are adequate resources available.

We've developed a separate research guide for you to use for biographical research. Find it at this link: Biography Research Guide

Think About This

Sometimes your assignment allows you to write about any topic that interests you.  If you can choose, consider writing about something:

  • That interests you;
  • For which there are plenty of resources;
  • You always wanted to learn about;
  • That increases your expertise in your chosen area of study.

Try to avoid being assigned a topic that bores you.  You will be working on that topic potentially for weeks.  Trust us, you'll bet bored if you aren't interested or if there are no resources on your topic. 

Listed on the right are a few databases that offer suggestions. Tip: Librarians can also work with you to help you to uncover your secret research passions, or at least find a workable topic. Ask us!