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6.2: Coming Up with Your Own Idea

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  • At other times, instructors allow students to pick a topic for their research-based writing projects. However, rarely do instructors allow their students to write research-based essays on anything for a lot of good reasons. For example, your composition and rhetoric course might be structured around a particular theme that you are exploring with your other reading assignments, your discussions, and your writing. Other ideas and topics don’t really lend themselves to academic research writing. You probably have a special person in your life worth writing about (a parent, a grandparent, a boyfriend or girlfriend, etc.), but it is usually difficult to write a research-based essay on such a person. Some potential topics are too divisive or complex to write about in a relatively short academic research-based essay, or some are topics that have become so overly-discussed that they have become clichés.

    Besides the general theme of the course and other potential limitations to ideas for research, you also need to carefully consider your own interests in the ideas you are thinking about researching.

    If you are allowed to choose your own research project topic, be sure to chose carefully, especially if it is a topic you will be working with throughout the term. Don’t pick a topic simply because it is the first idea that comes to mind or because you imagine it will be “easy” to research. Focus instead on an idea that meets the goals of the assignment, is researchable, and, most importantly, is a topic that you are interested in learning more about.

    Taking the time to develop a good research topic at the beginning of the research writing process is critical. Planning ahead can be difficult and time-consuming, and it can be tempting to seize on the first idea that seems “easy.” But all too often, these “easy” first ideas end up being time-consuming and difficult projects. In other words, the time you spend turning your research idea into a topic and then a working thesis will pay off when it comes time to actually write the research project assignment.

    Exercise 5.1

    • What are some ideas that would NOT make good research projects for this class? Working in small groups, try to come up with a list of items that you all agree would be difficult (if not impossible) to write a research project about for this class.
    • Are there items that you can add to your list of topics that would NOT make good research projects, ones that are “researchable” but that seem too cliched or controversial to do effectively in one semester?
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