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ENG 101 Research and Composition B. Maxam

DEFINE a topic

Tips for choosing a topic:

  1. Select a topic within the parameters set by the assignment.
  2. Select a topic of personal interest to you. The research and writing process will be more enjoyable if you are writing about something that you find interesting.
  3. There are a number of ways you can get ideas for a topic.  Try some of the following
    • Surfing the web, specifically news websites will often generate some topic ideas.  Once you have a general topic in mind, then use it as a keyword and searching for it in Wikipedia.  This is a fast and easy way to find information about a general topic and determine whether it is something you are interested in researching further.
    • Talk to your instructor, a librarian, a friend, co-worker or family member about your research project. Ask them what they think would be an interesting topic to research.  A lot of useful brainstorming can be had through conversation. 
    • If you already have some experience or comfort level with library databases then you may want to try browsing some of our databases, such as Opposing View Points or CQ Researcher.
    • If you are more comfortable with print material like magazines, newspapers and books, then you can also look for a topic by browsing our print collection. 

*Note, that you won't necessarily be citing these resources in your final research project. You're just using them to brainstorm ideas.

Use a concept map to help you brainstorm related terms and subtopics.  Here is an example of what a concept map looks like.  You may also be interested in downloading the worksheet below to help you through the brainstorming process.


Regardless of our own backgrounds and previous knowledge we all carry with us preconceived notions and bias about certain topics.  That's why it's important to start your research with a question.  This will help you approach your research with a fresh perspective and prevent you from falling prey to confirmation bias.

How to come up with a research question:

  • Ask open-ended "how" and why" questions about your general topic.
  • Consider the "so what" of your topic.  Why  does this topic matter to you? Why should it matter to others?
  • Reflect on the questions you have considered.  Identify one or two questions you find engaging and which could be explored further through research.  

Example Research Questions:

Ok: Are video games bad for kids?

Better: Does playing violent video games lead to more aggressive behavior in children?


Ok: What is the effect on the environment from global warming?

Better: How is glacial melting affecting penguins in Antarctica? 

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