Research Topic Ideas

Getting Started

This guide provides you with a list of topic ideas (by subject or academic discipline) which could be developed into a research paper or project.  It is not an all inclusive list, but a list developed over time with input from faculty and students.

It is intended to offer suggestions only. 

This is NOT a guide to help you research a topic. It is only intended to provide ideas for a paper. 


The ability to develop a good research topic is an important skill. An instructor may assign you a specific topic, but most often instructors require you to select your own topic of interest. When deciding on a topic, there are a few things that you will need to do:

  • Brainstorm for ideas.
  • Choose a topic that will enable you to read and understand the articles and books you find.
  • Ensure that the topic is manageable and that material is available.
  • Make a list of key words.
  • Be flexible. You may have to broaden or narrow your topic to fit your assignment or the sources you find.

Selecting a good topic may not be easy. It must be narrow and focused enough to be interesting, yet broad enough to find adequate information. Before selecting your final topic, make sure you know what your final project should look like. Each class or instructor will likely require a different format or style of research project.

1. Brainstorming for a Topic

Choose a topic that interests you. Use the following questions to help generate topic ideas.

  • Do you have a strong opinion on a current social or political controversy?
  • Did you read or see a news story recently that has piqued your interest or made you angry or anxious?
  • Do you have a personal issue, problem, or interest that you would like to know more about?
  • Is there an aspect of a class that you are interested in learning more about?

Write down any key words or concepts that may be of interest to you. These terms can be helpful in your searching and used to form a more focused research topic.

Be aware of overused ideas when deciding a topic. You may wish to avoid topics such as abortion, gun control, teen pregnancy, or suicide unless you feel you have a unique approach to the topic. Ask the instructor for ideas if you feel you are stuck or need additional guidance.

Sometimes using a Concept Map can help you come up with directions to take your research.

2. Read General Background Information

Read a general encyclopedia article on the top two or three topics you are considering.

Reading a broad summary enables you to get an overview of the topic and see how your idea relates to broader, narrower, and related issues. It also provides a great source for finding words commonly used to describe the topic. These keywords may be very useful to your later research.

If you can't find an article on your topic, try using broader terms and ask for help from a librarian.

The databases listed below are good places to find general information. The library's print reference collection can also be useful and is located on the third floor of the library.

3. Focus Your Topic

Keep it manageable and be flexible. If you start doing more research and not finding enough sources that support your thesis, you may need to adjust your topic.

A topic will be very difficult to research if it is too broad or narrow. One way to narrow a broad topic such as "the environment" is to limit your topic. Some common ways to limit a topic are:

  • by geographic area

Example: What environmental issues are most important in the Southwestern United States?

  • by culture

Example: How does the environment fit into the Navajo world view?

  • by time frame:

Example: What are the most prominent environmental issues of the last 10 years?

  • by discipline

Example: How does environmental awareness effect business practices today?

  • by population group

Example: What are the effects of air pollution on senior citizens?

Remember that a topic may be too difficult to research if it is too:

  • locally confined - Topics this specific may only be covered in local newspapers and not in scholarly articles.

Example: What sources of pollution affect the Genesee County water supply?

  • recent - If a topic is quite recent, books or journal articles may not be available, but newspaper or magazine articles may. Also, websites related to the topic may or may not be available.
  • broadly interdisciplinary - You could be overwhelmed with superficial information.

Example: How can the environment contribute to the culture, politics and society of the Western United States?

  • popular - You will only find very popular articles about some topics such as sports figures and high-profile celebrities and musicians.

Putting your topic in the form of a question will help you focus on what type of information you want to collect.

If you have any difficulties or questions with focusing your topic, discuss the topic with your instructor, or with a librarian.

More Research Help

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