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ENG 101 Research and Composition C. Pristash: DEFINE a Topic

Watch out for confirmation bias

Confirmation Bias: Another reason asking a research question can help:

Although I may already have my own opinion about my topic it’s important that I start my research process open minded and curious about my topic by starting my research with a question.  Otherwise I risk falling prey to confirmation bias.

"Confirmation bias, also called confirmatory bias or myside bias, is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one's preexisting beliefs or hypotheses, while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities. It is a type of cognitive bias and a systematic error of inductive reasoning. People display this bias when they gather or remember information selectively, or when they interpret it in a biased way."

“Confirmation Bias.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation,

Step 1. Find a General Topic

Tips for choosing a topic:

  • Select a topic within the parameters set by the assignment.
  • 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.
  • 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.


Step 2: Refine your topic

Your next step will be to refine your topic so it’s a little more research friendly.  If your topic is too general then it will generate too much information when you do a search.  If your topic is too specific  then you risk not being able to find enough information.

One of the best ways to refine your topic is to use a concept map to brainstorm related terms, themes and subtopics:

When you are in the process of refining your topic it is helpful to come up with an actual research question. This isn't necessarily the same as a thesis statement.  The research question is meant to help you identify various lines of inquiry related to your topic.  In fact, you may find yourself asking several research questions throughout the research process.  As you gather and review the information you find, you will begin to form your own thoughts and opinions on your topic.  These thoughts and opinions will ultimately form your actual thesis statement.