Have you ever stared at the rack of candy at your local convenience store trying to figure out which candy bar you want? Do you finally just grab one simply because a candy bar is a candy bar, and it’s all chocolate, so one is just as good as the next?
This might be a fine process for satisfying your sweet tooth, but it’s definitely not a good strategy for choosing a research paper topic.
All research topics are not created equal, so don’t choose a topic out of desperation or simply because you can’t think of anything else to write about. Learn how to choose a research paper topic by following these 5 quick tips that will put you on the path to the perfect paper.
How to Choose a Research Paper Topic That Wins Big
1. Choose the right topic for your assignment
To put it bluntly, even if you write a research essay that’s nothing short of amazing, but you’re writing about the wrong topic, you’ll still probably fail. Not exactly the result you were hoping for.
So here’s a painfully obvious tip: If you’re writing a research paper in a psychology class, pick a topic related to psychology. Don’t try to recycle your history paper detailing the timeline of the Civil War. It isn’t going to work.
You should also check to see if your professor has a list of banned topics. Issues like marijuana legalization, gun control, and texting and driving are likely on that list.
Writing a brilliant research paper about a topic on this list could likely mean an “F.” Again, not the result you want.
2. Choose a topic you care about
I know, I know. You hate English class. You hate literature, and you hate Shakespeare even more. How can you possibly find a topic to write about when you have almost zero interest in the subject?
If you’re writing a research paper for a required course, you might not feel much passion for the subject. I get that. I know it’s hard to pretend to be interested, but try to choose a topic you can at least tolerate.
Maybe you don’t like Shakespeare, but maybe you’re interested in history, violence, and war. Shakespeare is full of all of these, including plenty of violence. After all, in “Hamlet” alone 8 people die. Now that’s interesting literature!
So even if you’re not thrilled about writing a research paper in a required course, if you think about your own interests and how they connect to the course, you’ll be able to find a topic.
Don’t forget, you’ll be working with this topic over an extended period of time, so you need to have at least a mild interest in the subject.
3. Choose an interesting topic
Not everyone will be interested in every topic, but some topics are simply overused–like gun control and abortion.
Instead of writing about a topic that you’ve chosen for your last three research papers, why not be more original?
Read your textbooks, news websites, or the local newspaper to get ideas about current events that might work for your paper. If you want the easy way out of this step, ask your politically active and informed friends for some ideas.
Fresh out of ideas? We have a few. Check out 25 Interesting Research Topics to Get You Started and 50 Research Topics to Help You Jumpstart Your Writing.
4. Narrow your topic
Even once you have a general sense of your research paper topic, you’re still not ready to research and write.
Sure, when you first think of it, violence in the media sounds like the perfect topic, but have you stopped to think about how many pages you could write about the topic?
Violence in the media might include discussions about video game violence, violence on television, violence on children’s programs, or violence in music, just to name a few.
How can you include all of these elements in one research paper? The answer: you can’t.
The solution is to narrow your topic so that you can write an effective essay in the time and word count allowed.
What do you do if you have a broad idea for a research topic but you’re not sure how to narrow it?
Try a basic Google search. Read a few sources to learn some facts and background information about your topic. Once you have attained some basic knowledge about your topic, you can more easily narrow your focus.
Completing preliminary research will not only help you learn more about your topic, but it will also help you write a better paper.
5. Develop a research question
Once you have identified your narrowed topic, you can refine your topic even more by creating a research question.
A research question is a specific question about your topic that will help you develop a focus for your paper.
If you have a clear direction for your paper before you begin writing, you won’t spend hours aimlessly searching the internet for what turns out to be useless information.
Not only will you save time, but you’ll also save yourself a lot of frustration and won’t want to drop your class just because you’re struggling with a research paper.
Here’s an example: Let’s say you narrowed your media violence topic to violence in children’s television programming.
Google violence in children’s television programming and you’ll get about 56 million results. Yeah. That’s a few too many results to read, even if you do have three weeks before the assignment is due.
Sure, you might get lucky and find some useful sources within the first few results, but why chance it?
Don’t try to incorporate anything and everything related to violence on kids’ TV shows into your paper. If you do, your paper will be broad, generalized, and not very interesting. Readers (like your professor) will say, “So what? What’s the point?”
Instead of aimlessly reading websites, let’s approach this in a more effective way.
Try starting with this research question: Does exposing preschool age children to violence portrayed in children’s programming affect their behavior?
Now we’re getting somewhere!
This question is clear and specific and gives you a direction for your research. You can research types of violence on kids’ television shows and research how kids’ behavior might change after watching acts of violence on kids’ shows.
Depending on the scope of your paper, you might also discuss how this violent behavior impacts the child and the family.
See, a research question makes life much easier, doesn’t it?
Now You Know How to Choose a Research Paper Topic! What’s Next?
Congrats! With a few short steps, you now know how to choose a research paper topic.
The next step, of course, is to actually write the research paper.
Now that you’ve followed these 5 relatively painless steps to choose your research topic, I encourage you to keep reading to learn how to turn your topic into research paper gold!
Here’s a list of some excellent (and informative) reading material to help you with writing your research paper.
- How to Write a Research Paper: A Step-by-Step Guide
- The 5 Best Resources to Help With Writing A Research Paper
- How to Write a Thesis Statement in 5 Simple Steps
- APA Citation Made Simple (Infographic)
- The Stress-Free Guide to MLA Essay Format (8th Edition)
Have your topic chosen and essay already written? Have a Kibin editor review your paper.