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Choosing a Topic LRC@TCC

How to Find a Topic | Developing Your Topic | Is Your Topic Suitable?

General Rules 

If possible, choose a topic that interests you. There are few things more difficult than trying to write about a topic in which you have little or no interest.

Be sure your topic is neither too broad nor too narrow for the assignment you have been given.

Check your assignment due date to see how much time you have and the length requirements to see how much you are expected to write.

You should do some preliminary checking for potential sources before you decide on your topic. Choose a topic about which there is likely to be information.

Make sure your instructor approves your topic before you start your research. 

How to Find a Topic 

There are a number of different methods for finding a research topic. Depending on the course you are taking and your specific assignment, some or all of the following suggestions may be useful:

Talk to your instructor.

Talk to a reference librarian. Librarians have a good idea of which topics are suitable for library research.

Use sources recommended on What Do I Write About?

Read your course outline to get an idea of the themes and broad subjects covered by the course.

Scan your textbook(s) and any other required or suggested readings.

Talk to friends and classmates. 

Consult general and/or specialized encyclopedias and other reference books that cover the subject area of your topic. 

Read current newspapers and magazines; watch or listen to the news on TV or radio. 

Develop Your Topic 

Once you have chosen a topic, you will need to develop it into a more specific research question. In  some cases, your instructor may require you to write a thesis statement for your paper. The research question or thesis statement provides the focus of your research; when you are conducting your  research, you should be constantly asking yourself how the information you are gathering helps to answer your research question or support your thesis statement. 

The following example illustrates the development of a research question and thesis statement from a general topic. 
Topic:  Television violence 
Research question:  What effect does television violence have on children? 
Thesis statement: The depiction of violence in television cartoons contributes to aggressive behavior among children who watch these programs. 


Is Your Topic Suitable? 

After you have a well-defined research question or thesis statement, you will want to test the main concepts against the resources that are available to you. In the example above, the main concepts are television violence, cartoon programs, children, and aggressiveness. To test your topic,  you would look up these concepts in the library catalog, relevant periodical databases, and specialized reference books. 

If you find too much information, you may need to narrow certain parts of your topic. If there appears to be too little information, you may need to broaden your topic or, in some cases, discard your topic and choose a new one. 

For example, the above thesis statement could be broadened to include not only cartoons but all children's programs; or you could include adolescents along with children. If you needed to narrow the topic, you could specify an age group, for example preschool age children. 

Reprinted & adapted with permission from
Ross Tyner's Electronic Information Literacy.