The first step in writing a research paper is choosing a good topic. Your topic will have to be something that falls within the guidelines provided by your instructor, and should also be something that you find interesting and would like to learn more about. However, a good research paper involves more than choosing an interesting topic and reporting information on it. A research paper should attempt to critically analyze a complex problem, and that means you need to develop a focused research question, which is essential to the research process. By defining exactly what you are trying to find out, your research question influences most of the rest of the steps taken to conduct your research. Follow the guides below to help you choose a topic and develop a good research question:
This section will help you consider a topic for your research paper that is interesting to you, and that is researchable using library resources. When you select a topic and focused research question, you’ll want to consider a few things:
Remember, your research question is NOT your thesis statement; it’s exploratory. If you start doing research and discover that people are writing articles about a more interesting (or easier to research) question, you can always adjust your question as you collect information.
The tools collected here will help you think about a topic that genuinely interests you, and develop a clear, concise, and researchable question based on that topic.
Your topic is the general, overarching area that you’re interested in, while the research question is a focused, smaller sliver of information you’re questioning within that topic. Topics are broad, while research questions are focused.
Topic: Urban Transportation
Research Questions could be…. “Why do some neighborhoods/communities oppose or advocate against creating bike lanes in their neighborhoods?” or “What factors increase or decrease the likelihood of electronic car adoption in urban environments?”
Research Questions could be… “How has the United States’ handling of immigration changed from the Obama White House to the Trump White House?” and if that question ends up being too large or unwieldy, you can adjust it to something like, “What does living in a ‘Sanctuary City’ actually mean for undocumented students attending college in New York?” or “How have immigration policies affected families that live on either side of the Texas/Mexico border?” You can adjust your question based on what (and how much) information comes up in your searches.
Good question! Coming up with a research question that leads you to a manageable paper is challenging and gets easier with practice. It’s a delicate balance between a few variables.
If you are still not sure what topic you would like to explore, the following 2 databases might help. Click the Browse Issues button in the database to see an alphabetical list of issues:
Opposing Viewpoints in Context provides access to full text literature about many current controversial issues, including climate change, gun control, immigration... Each topic includes viewpoint essays, topic overviews, newspaper and magazine articles, statistics, and links to related web sites. A good starting point for learning/writing papers about current issues.
CQ Researcher is another good database to use when learning/ writing about current social, political, and economic issues. Full text reports written by journalists, topics include health, education, public policy, the environment, technology, and the economy. Each report includes a concise overview of an issue, historical background, opposing arguments, statistics and polls, and suggestions for further reading.