Skip to main content
Humanities LibreTexts

5.1: Picking a topic

  • Page ID
  • \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \) \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)\(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)\(\newcommand{\AA}{\unicode[.8,0]{x212B}}\)

    You obviously want a topic of interest to you. But more than that, you want a topic that makes you curious (Shelagh Rose and Kathryn McGuire, Pasadena College in talk at CCL Deans and Director’s meeting, 2018). You might be interested in scuba diving. Are you curious enough about its history or the development of scuba gear to write a paper or just interested in learning to scuba? Pick something of interest to you that will hold your curiosity from the research stage to your final project. Be creative, but if for an academic paper, check with your professor to be sure you are on the right track.

    Use your text books; conversations with friends, family and professors; newspapers; news feeds; blogs and such as sources of ideas for your papers. A Google web search might be a way to get a topic idea, but is not the way to do research for that topic. A Google search on what effects monarch butterfly migration would be considered a bad search. The words I typed are bad as you will learn in Section 6 and Google is not the best place to get the information for an academic report. That bad search can, however, do some good since, in less than 5 minutes, it retrieved information about infringement on habitat due to logging and farming as well as the impact of climate change on monarchs. This is useful because now the research can be narrowed and focused on specific issues. In another 5 minutes, Google might offer even more ideas about monarch migration that could turn into a good research question or thesis statement. From there, the topic can be developed and better sources than Google should be used for an academic paper.

    Other great places to get topics are subject specific encyclopedias the librarians can show you. Many are online. Your topic should not be too big, too small, too generic or too specific. How do you tell?

    First, ask if you can answer your topic question with a 'yes' or a 'no'. For example: Do honey badgers care? Is Disneyland the happiest place on Earth? These are yes or no questions. These and other questions that can be answered with one or two words are not well defined topics. Better questions might be, “What role does aggression play in the animal kingdom?” or “How do different cultures define happiness?”

    This page titled 5.1: Picking a topic is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Carol M. Withers with Bruce Johnson & Nathan Martin.

    • Was this article helpful?