Help Guides » Choosing a Topic

Choosing a Topic


How much time do you have?
If you have several weeks, your instructor is expecting you to do more research.

Do you need scholarly references?
Topics focused narrowly on recent events might not be covered yet in scholarly books and articles. Try identifying the bigger picture a recent event represents. For example, #MeToo is about sexual harassment and sexual violence awareness.

How long does your paper need to be?

  • A short paper will need a focused idea.
  • A longer paper will need a broader topic or a topic with a lot of information.

  • Search your textbook or syllabus for course relevant topics you could expand on.
  • Come up with a few sample topic ideas and ask your instructor for feedback on them.
  • Try this list: U-Michigan Research Topic Ideas (Website) 
  • Try a topic starter database that provides an overview of sample topics
  • Browse news sources (in print or online) for ideas ▶️Watch a Video Tutorial

Source: UC Santa Cruz University Library


Before you decide on a topic, you should do some test searching to see if there is enough resources and information available.

Picking Your Topic is Research

Mapping your Research Ideas

TIP: Mindmup is a great free mind mapping tool online.


IS IT TOO BROAD? For example, a topic that is too broad: The Environment.  This is too broad because it includes multiple subtopics.

IS IT TOO NARROW? For example, a topic that is too narrow might be:  “The water quality of the Milwaukee river between 2011-2015“; while you might find a resource or two, you won’t find enough sources to write a complete research paper.

IS IT JUST RIGHT? Try picking a specific angle, subtopic, or how a narrow topic influences other factors in your field. An example might be: What are the effects of pollution on water quality in Wisconsin?

Source: University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign