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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.)? How many do you need? What citation format are you being told to use?
  • When is the assignment due? How much time do you have to research?
  • Is currency of information important?
  • Will you be presenting your final product to the class?
  • Are you writing a persuasive argument, an informative explanation, a report, a summary, an analysis, a reaction...? Understand the ask!

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.
  • Skim current events sources, like newspapers, magazines, or blogs, to find out who's talking about the topic, what they're saying, and what other people think in response to that.

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

Picking your Topic is Research