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How to do library research: Selecting a Research Topic

Consider these early on

Choosing an interesting research topic is your first challenge. Here are some tips:

Choose a topic that you are interested in! The research process is more relevant if you care about your topic.

Narrow your topic to something manageable. If your topic is too broad, you will find too much information and not be able to focus.

Background reading can help you choose and limit the scope of your topic. 

Review the guidelines on topic selection outlined in your assignment.  Ask your professor or TA for suggestions.

Talk about research ideas with a friend. S/he may be able to help focus your topic by discussing issues that didn't occur to you at first.

Think of the who, what, when, where and why questions:

WHY did you choose the topic?  What interests you about it?  Do you have an opinion about the issues involved?

WHO are the information providers on this topic?  Who might publish information about it?  Who is affected by the topic?  Do you know of organizations or institutions affiliated with the topic?

WHAT are the major questions for this topic?  Is there a debate about the topic?  Are there a range of issues and viewpoints to consider?

WHERE is your topic important: at the local, national or international level?  Are there specific places affected by the topic?

WHEN is/was your topic important?  Is it a current event or an historical issue?  Do you want to compare your topic by time periods?

Kinds of research questions to ask

Source: Bean, J. C. (2011). Designing and sequencing assignments to teach undergraduate research. In Engaging ideas: The professor's guide to integrating writing, critical thinking, and active learning in the classroom (2nd ed., p. 237). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Library H3lp: 24-7 research assistance

Writing Help

Here are some resources to refer to when selecting a topic and preparing to write a paper:


This work is an adaptation of MIT Libraries' "Selecting a Research Topic guide: and used with permission and in compliance with Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 4.0 License restrictions.