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English 101 and 102: Topic Development

This research guide will help you find quality information to support the ideas you write in your essays. It also provides resources to assist in proper citation.

Identify a Topic

Identifying a topic to research is the first step in the research process. But settling on a subject for your research paper can be a bit overwhelming. Here are a few helpful tips.

Brainstorming for Ideas

  • Select a topic based on your interests. What are you curious about? What are you passionate about socially or politically? Is there a subject you are not familiar with and want to know more about? Is there a mystery you would like to explore?
  • As you begin to think about a variety of interests, write down keywords/concepts of interests that may help you build a more focused topic. Consider related or synonymous words with your topic or search phrase. For example, if part of your research topic includes "assessment" and  you are not finding a lot of content using the word "assessment" try "evaluation".
  • Once you have narrowed your choices to a small number, read about the topics in an encyclopedia. This will give you an overview of each topic, discover some additional information that may peak your interest, identify additional words to help describe your topic and locate additional sources when you begin searching more seriously. Use indexes to magazines, journals, or newspapers to search for articles related to your topic. Try searching the web as well to find sites related to your topic.
  • You'll want a topic that is manageable. A broad topic will overwhelm you and a topic too narrow can be limiting. If your topic is broad there are a few ways to help you manage. Try narrowing your topic by:
    • Geography (for example: ...poverty in Southern Appalachia)
    • Timeframe or period of time (examples: last 5 years or during the Depression Era)
    • Culture  (for example: the Christian point of view)
    • Population (examples: college students or senior citizens)
    • Discipline (for example: environmental regulations affecting the economics of...)
  • If your topic is too narrow you may have trouble locating the needed amount of information.
    • If your topic is recent very little information has been written about the subject
    • If it is a local topic the sources of information will be few
    • A popular celebrity may only be found in magazines which are often written by contributors. If you are required to use scholarly articles this will be a problem.
  • Turn your research topic into a research question or turn your research question into a topic sentence. Why? When you define your topic as a research question you may have more questions about the topic. When you turn your research question into a topic sentence you may identify more concepts which will help you build a more focused research question or a more manageable topic.
  • Finally, do some more research on your topic. Go back to the list of keywords  and search the library's catalog, databases, and the internet. Are you finding enough information on the topic you are close to selecting?
  • It may even help to construct a Thesis Statement. This statement should convey what question is being answered, what is being proven, or what you are informing your readers about.

Resource Recommendation

If you are assigned a Pro and Con paper this resource provides in-depth analysis on controversial or debatable issues covering a wide range of topics.  CQ Researcher contains scholarly and popular references, including photos, graphs, a "pro-con" section, and historical background on a topic.

While this resource is not recommended by your professor, it does provide some basic reference to a topic, giving you definitions, historical background, names, dates, and more. Once you’ve gathered some basic information and ideas you’ll want to search for credible scholarly materials.