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College Composition

Selecting Topics

Tips for Identifying a Topic
  • Make Sure It's Debatable: Your topic should be something that you can take a position on and support with evidence.  Certain topics are so acknowledged to be true that they are no longer debatable.
  • Look for Issues or Problems: Issues and problems make good topics because they are always debatable.  You can take a position on an issue or problem and support it through evidence.
    • ‚ÄčAn issue is something that people disagree over.  Issues: taxation, abortion rights, gun control, or etc.
    • A problem is something that begs to be resolved.  Problems: global warming, the opioid crisis, school shootings, or etc.
  • Pick Something that Interests You:  Has a current event caught your attention?  Do you have a hobby or interest? Almost anything can be turned into a topic if you sufficiently focus it.  
  • Know which Topics are Allowed: Some instructors forbid certain topics.  Make sure your topic is OK to write about before starting your research.
Topic Selection Resources

Narrowing Topics

Narrowing Strategies
  • By Demographic:  Is there a specific group of people affected by your issue or problem that you could focus on?
  • By Geography: Could you limit your research to a specific geographical area?
  • By Key Event: Is there a major event associated with your issue or problem that you could view it through?
  • By Key Individual: Is there an individual associated with your 
  • By Solution: Are there programs or solutions intended to address your problem whose efficacy you could evaluate?
  • By Cause or Effect: Are there just a few causes or effects of your issue/problem that you could focus on?
  • By Academic Discipline: Could you view your issue or problem from the perspective of one academic discipline?
Narrowing Examples

 

Broad Topic Narrower Focused
Global warming Sea level rise Sea level rise and community relocation
Bullying Zero-tolerance anti-bullying policies Zero-tolerance anti-bullying policies and racial discrimination
Hunting Northern Minnesota Wolf Population Northern Minnesota wolf population and hunting regulations
Video Games Randomized loot-crates in video games Randomized loot-crates in video games and gambling regulations

 

Still Having Trouble? Start Researching

If you are having trouble narrowing your topic, start researching to get ideas about things currently being discussed in relation to your topic.

  • Reference Resources can quickly acquaint you with key issues, problems, events, people and etc. to give you narrowing ideas.
  • Newspapers and Magazines are great resources for getting you acquainted with what is currently being said about your topic.

Asking a Research Question

Writing a research question is a good way to focus your research.  You can write one main research question to focus your research, along with more specific questions about pieces of information you will need to answer your main research question.

Research Question Tips

 

  • Address an issue or seek to solve a problem.
  • Avoid close-ended questions that can be answered by finding a single piece of information.
  • The answer should not be immediately obvious.  It should require research and multiple pieces of evidence to answer.
  • If you phrase your research question correctly, all you will have to do to write your thesis is answer it!

 

From Broad Topic to Research Question

 

Broad Topic Narrower Focused Research Question
Global Warming Sea level rise Sea level rise and community relocation How might coastal communities manage the need for relocation due to sea level rise?
Bullying High School Zero-Tolerance Bullying Policies High School Zero-Tolerance Bullying Policies and Race What role has race played in the enforcement of high school zero-tolerance anti-bullying policies?
Hunting Northern Minnesota wolf population Northern Minnesota wolf population and hunting regulations Should the Minnesota DNR relax hunting regulations on wolves to increase the northern deer population?
Video Games Randomized loot-crates in video games Randomized loot-crates in video games and gambling regulations Should randomized loot-crates in video games be regulated the same way as online gambling websites?