Skip to Main Content

Research Tips and Tricks

Select A Preliminary Topic

Once you understand your assignment requirements, you can start thinking about your topic.

In some cases, your research paper's topic will already have been assigned to you or you will be required to pick from a list of topics. In other cases, you may have the opportunity to choose your topic that fits within the course subject matter.

In both situations, there is usually some choice for the direction you take your paper.

Also, keep in mind that depending on the type of paper you need to write not all topics will work (click here for more information about paper types).

It is also important to remember that it might take several tries to settle on a topic. 

Therefore, after selecting a preliminary topic, test your topic by doing some initial research in a database.

If you don't find any research, you may need to adjust your topic by expanding the topic, searching again and then modifying it until you have success.


One technique is to ask yourself some questions to generate topic ideas. 

  • Is there an aspect of one of your classes that you would like to learn more about?
  • What are your major interests within your discipline?
  • What coursework did you find the most exciting?
  • What theories and concepts are most interesting to you?
  • Are there some ideas you have studied which you are curious about and would like to explore more?
  • What are the major issues or problems faced in your field today?
  • Have you read any interesting articles or books related to your discipline?




Another technique is to think about the types of sources you need. Ask yourself some or all of these questions.

  • Do you need primary sources?
  • Do you need secondary sources?
  • Do you need popular sources?
  • Are you required to have peer-reviewed journal articles, or are scholarly articles sufficient?

The types of sources you need for your project will also impact the topic you can choose.

For example, if you are writing on a topic that requires peer-reviewed sources, you might not be able write about a current topic.

On the other hand, if you can only use popular sources or newspapers published in the last year, your topic will need to be very current.


Click here for more information. 

Another technique is to do some background research within your field or the general topic of interest. 

There are a couple of methods for background research...

  • Encyclopedia Entries
  • Wikipedia
  • Dictionaries
  • General Encyclopedias
  • Article Databases
  • Newspapers


Background Research Databases 

Another technique is mind mapping. You can start with a broad topic, then brainstorm related ideas or topics until you have a more manageable topic. Ask questions such as who, what, when, why, where, and how.

For example:

You can use this tool to help you brainstorm.


Picking Your Topic IS Research!