Choosing a Research Topic

Choosing a Research Topic

Choosing a research topic on your own can feel overwhelming at first. It might feel easier when your professor gives you a list of pre-approved topics from which to choose because you can concentrate only on the research and writing without having to worry about picking the “perfect” topic.

However, with a little thought and preparation, the process of choosing and researching your own topics can be manageable and enriching. It can also prepare you for upper-division classes, your career, and life after college.

Getting Started

Match your topic to the assignment

Carefully read your instructor’s guidelines on acceptable topics. Because your professor will be the one grading your work, these guidelines are highly valuable. They tell you what the instructor expects in your finished work and serve as your best resource for choosing a topic that will develop into a successful essay.

Plan for Assignment Length

Recognize that a great topic for a thoroughly researched, 10-page report will likely not work for a 2-page overview assignment. Account for the technical details of your assignment as you consider possible topics. Choose one that can be thoroughly discussed within the allotted assignment length.

If you find yourself running out of information halfway through your draft, you may need to broaden your topic. On the other hand, if you are barely getting started and have already gone over the assigned number of pages, you might need to narrow and refocus your topic.

Develop Your Topic

Find an issue or angle that interests you

You will be spending a lot of time looking up information, learning about your topic, and combining your research results with what you already know. Choose a topic that you are genuinely interested in, you want to learn more about, or, when possible, one with which you disagree. Doing so can make the process more insightful.

Stay flexible

Consider your first choice topic as a “working topic,” and be prepared to shift your focus as you get deeper into your research. Your research will uncover new details and interesting aspects of your topic that may work out better than your original idea. Adjusting the topic throughout your research process allows you to take advantage of your expanding knowledge.

Final Thoughts

Learning to choose and develop your own research topics is an important skill you can cultivate as you continue your academic journey. When researching, start early and give yourself time to explore different ideas before having to commit to one. Writing techniques like brainstorming ideas and outlining will help you visualize how a topic can be developed into an essay. The Stone Writing Center has information available on brainstorming, outlining, and additional writing strategies to help you through all stages of your research and writing processes.

Page last updated July 6, 2023.