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Choosing & Defining a Topic: Start Here

Tips on choosing a topic for a research assignment.

Selecting a Topic

1. Choosing a topic based on emotion, career goals or personal experience can make the research more interesting. 

2. Narrow the subject by focusing on a smaller issue. The focus may be a cause, effect, mystery, case study, controversy or issue. This focus will be the topic of the paper.


Subject: Criminal Justice   Topic: Community policing
Subject: Nutrition   Topic: Obesity in children
Subject: Education   Topic: School uniforms in public schools


3. Conduct preliminary research such as reading an encyclopedia, magazine or journal article. Write down keywords, names and subject headings while reading. This will help when searching for books, journals, web sites and visual media.

4. The research paper should have a goal (thesis). When conducting preliminary research, write down questions about the topic. Choose one as a major question or goal of the paper and concentrate on research for that goal.

5. Refine the topic. What time period should be covered, is there a region or country to focus on, is there a particular person or group to discuss, what aspects of the topic are interesting (economic, sociological, political, historical, etc)?

This tutorial may also help in topic selection.

Beginning Research

The MCC Beginning Research Libguide has a Research Paper Calculator that will create a timeline for meeting each step of the assigment.

In addition to the Topic tabs above, the following resources can aid in deciding on a topic and beginning the research process;

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