Finding a Topic for Your Research Paper Help
Finding a Topic for Your Research
How do you find the ideal topic to research and write about? Are there some topics that are better than others? In this lesson you will learn how to narrow down an idea so that it is more specific. The more specific you are about a topic or subject area that interests you, the easier it will be to find materials. Once you learn how to find the ideal topic, looking for sources will be easy.
It's exciting that there are so many topics and individuals out there that have potential research interest. Your research topic may be chosen for you if you are in a particular class, but often you will have to come up with a topic by yourself. How do you narrow down your topics or choose just one idea? For the moment, you don't have to answer that question. Instead, allow yourself to brainstorm and make a list of at least five potential ideas or people that might interest you. For instance, your list might look something like this:
- The invention of electricity
- World War II
- Environmental pollution
- Henry VIII
- President John F. Kennedy
Look at your list, and select two topics that interest you the most. For example, maybe you are a history buff and you have chosen President John F. Kennedy as a potential topic, and your other area is environmental pollution, a concern that you also would like to investigate.
Narrowing Down Your Topic Using the 5 W's
Usually, almost all topics and research papers are about an:
- INDIVIDUAL = President John F. Kennedy
- a specific ISSUE or CONCERN = Environmental Pollution
Study your choices and make a selection between the two of them. Let's say that although both topics interest you, you have always had a passion for history, and are fascinated by the mystery surrounding President John F. Kennedy's assassination. To narrow your topic even further, take a moment and ask yourself five basic questions. These questions (the 5 W's) are:
It's an easy process and one that journalists do constantly before they begin any article. Sit down, resist the temptation to open a book or browse the Internet, and ask yourself these 5 W's. All good thesis statements contain these 5 W's, and good pieces of writing usually answer the 5 W's within the first paragraph, sometimes within the very first sentence.
Constructing a Chart
The next step will help you narrow down your topic even further and make it more specific. If you asked a librarian for information, or typed "John F. Kennedy" into a search engine on the Internet, either the librarian or the computer would pull up thousands of sources. Most likely, you don't have the time to sift through all the pages and books that have been written about President John F. Kennedy. For that reason, you need to refine your search. Using the 5 W's as a guide, make yourself a chart and fill in all the information that you already know. For example, your chart might look like this:
Don't worry if you can't answer the last question: Why? This last question will be answered as you are writing your paper, after you have done all your research. In other words, you may not know why President John F. Kennedy was shot. But by the end of your research paper, you can draw your own conclusion and answer that question for your readers. For the moment, all you need to fill out are the first four basic questions. Once these questions are answered you know what topic to type into a computer or ask about, what year you are researching, where the incident took place, and what sources to locate from that city or state.
You are now on your way to beginning the research process!
Selecting a topic for your research paper can seem overwhelming because there are so many unique ideas and people to choose from. Don't worry if you don't know exactly what you want your topic to be. Allow yourself time to think and choose by brainstorming and listing all those ideas or people that might interest you. Refine your list by selecting two potential topics, narrow it down by ultimately choosing one, and then ask yourself the 5 W's to make your topic as specific as possible. In this way, you can start with very large ideas or concepts and break them down so that they are manageable, fun, and easy to research.
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