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English -- ENG 110,120,122: Choosing a Topic

Course Research Guide -- Communication Skills: Writing
Subjects: English

Choosing a Topic

1.  Brainstorm possible topic ideas

  • Consider your personal interests.
  • Engage in conversations in class or with classmates.
  • Read articles in encyclopedias or dictionaries and review class readings.
  • Browse recent issues of print journals or magazines in the Periodicals Room on the 1st floor of Ryan Library.
  • Browse the shelves for books on your subject.

2.  Review assignment requirements

  • What kind of assignment is it - 5 minute oral presentation, 10 page paper, 50 page paper?
  • How much information do you need?
  • Does it need to be recent information?
  • What types of publications do you want to read - newspaper articles, books, journal articles, diaries, trade publications?
  • What formats do you need - visual, audio, printed, electronic?
  • Is point of view an issue? Do you need opinions?
  • How much time do you have?

3.  List keyword to define your topic

  • State your research topic as a question.
  • Think about the significant terms, concepts, and keywords that describe your topic. These terms will become the key for searching for information about your subject in library catalogs, online databases, and other resources.
  • Sample keywords for research topic "How did New Deal programs influence the arts in America?":
    • New Deal
    • United States
    • Depression
    • Art
    • Federal Aid to the Arts

4. Gather background information on your topic

It's hard to get started if you don't know much about your topic.  Do some general reading in things like encyclopedias and subject-specific dictionaries to get an overview of the topic.  This is also a great first step towards refining your topic.
from Duke University Libraries, Library Guide,

Browse for Ideas on Current or Controversial Topics

Refining Your Topic

You may need to narrow your focus if you find that your topic is too broad and there is a flood of information.

You may also need to broaden your focus if you find that your topic is so specific or narrow that you can't find sources that there is not enough information!

Find suggestions for remedying either situation in the Tab on top of this guide titled Narrowing or Broadening Your Topic.