Section 1 Choosing and focusing a topic > Creating and refining a research question > Review

Tips for choosing a topic and finding a focus:

  • Your textbook as well as class lectures and/or class discussions might suggest topics. Keep in mind that the best topic is one that you are genuinely interested in and want to know more about.
  • Check the table of contents of an encyclopedia on the general subject. If, for example, you are assigned a paper about the Middle Ages, scan the table of contents in the Dictionary of the Middle Ages for topic ideas.
  • If you have been asked to write a paper about a controversy, consult the following source for controversies in multiple disciplines:
    -Taking Sides 20 vols. Ref HN5 .T35
  • Once you have an idea for a topic, read an encyclopedia essay about it to get an overview of it.
  • Try doing an exploratory search of a database (see Section 4 of the tutorial) to get a sense of the kind of work that others have done on it. This might give you ideas about ways you can approach it.

Keep in mind: Never begin work on a research project until you are absolutely clear on the specifications; check the assignment handout and/or your professor on length, kinds of sources, and other requirements.

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