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Research Basics: Select a Topic

The Research Assignment - Define the Task

Before selecting a topic or starting your research, make sure you understand your assignment. Consider:

  • Have you been assigned a topic or can you pick your own?
  • How many pages/words do you need to write? How long is your presentation?
  • Do you need to include specific types of sources (e.g. scholarly journal, book, etc.)?
  • When is the assignment due? How much time do you have to research?
  • Is currency of information important?

When in doubt, consult with your instructor.

Topic Ideas

Can't think of a topic? 


  • What aspects of your research assignment are you interested in?
  • What time period of geographic area are you interested in?
  • What do you already know about the topic?

Some tips to consider:

  • Be sure to pick something that genuinely interests you.
  • Ask your instructor, a librarian, or even a classmate for advice or feedback on paper topic ideas.
  • Finally, once you've settled on something you want to work on, try to express it as a question. 

Places to start:

  • Browsing a general reference resource is a great place to start. 
  • Look at a "hot topic" database to get a sense of important social issues. 

Read through current newspapers and see what is happening in the news that interests you. 

Picking your Topic is Research