HOW TO CHOOSE A TOPIC
*Many assignments will often narrow your choices of topics down to a specific subject or concept. But here are a few tips to help you find the right topic that will assist you in researching, synthesizing and writing a great research paper.
1.) Conduct Primary Research - Before selecting a topic, perform a couple of searches on Google, the Library Online Book Catalog, and the Library Research Databases to find out if there are good sources on which to build your research. Conducting primary research may also illuminate other subjects that you may find more interesting. Occasionally, you may even find an article or book that sparks an interest in refuting or defending its argument.
- Select a topic the you already know a little about.
- Select a topic that you have a strong, yet informed opinion on.
- If you struggle to find sources about a topic, you may want to choose a different one.
- Ask a Librarian!
2.) List Different Places to Find Sources - Write down three to five different places you will go (physically or online) to find sources to support and validate your conclusions. These places should coincide with the research you are conducting. For example, if you are performing research on criminal justice, it would be a good idea to use places that store criminal justice information, like the Bureau of Justice Statistics, a government run body that collects research on crimes, law enforcement, and victims. If you are struggling to find places that will provide sources, ask a Librarian! We can help!
Here is an example:
SUBJECT: Community Policing
Library Book Catalog (Criminal Justice)
Library Article Databases (EBSCO Criminal Justice Abstracts, ProQuest Criminal Justice Database)
National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS Online Government Source)
Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS.gov Government run agency)
Google Scholar (Google Scholar is DIFFERENT from the regular Google Search Engine in that it ONLY searches scholarly research articles. Some articles may not be available in full text, however, they may be available in the McGrath Library subscription databases - scholar.google.com).
3.) List Different Search Terms - Once you have a broad subject area, create a short list of key words (or search terms) that you can use to finds sources. Here is an example for Community Policing: Police, Neighborhood Policing, Neighborhood Law Enforcement, Police Programs, Neighborhood Crime Prevention.
4.) Begin Building a List of Sources - Build a list of three to five initial sources and read through them. Conducting research may change your original stance on your topic, it also may give you some ideas to include in your paper. Be sure to use the sources to support your original ideas and argument.
5.) Use Sources You Already Have to Find More Sources - Once you have a few initial sources, use the references that those sources utilize to find more. This is a process called "Chaining." For example, authors of a scholarly article will use dozens of other books and articles for their research, simply look through the reference list to investigate other sources. This may also help you to narrow down your topic area.
6.) Narrow or Broaden Your Topic - Conducting preliminary research can help you in two main ways. First, it will give you an idea on whether there will be enough informational sources to support your conclusions. If there seems to be very little information on a particular subject, you may want to change topics. Second, it will help you either narrow or broaden your topic. As you are skimming and/or reading your sources you may find a specific aspect of your topic that you want to focus on. For example you may want to focus your paper on community policing on the effectiveness of its implementation in the city of Chicago. If your focus is too broad it may make the paper seem like it's lacking depth, if it is too narrow, you will restrict the flow of sources into your research.
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