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Topic Development


This guide will help you develop your research topic. You can learn how to:

  • Generate a list of ideas to explore in order to identify a potential topic.   
  • Describe existing knowledge of a topic in order to identify potential gaps in their knowledge. 
  • Differentiate between research questions and regular questions in order confirm the feasibility of a research question. 
  • Generate a list of protentional research question in order to select one that fits the scope of the assignment. 

Reading Your Assignment

Research assignments are often complex and designed to be completed over several weeks or even months. It's important to read assignments through multiple times to look for instructions about the different parts of the research process. 

Topic Instructions 

  • Research assignments have rules about what kind of topics you can choose to research.
    • You may need to choose within a specific subfield or discipline.
    • Perhaps the assignment wants you to explore a topic that is personal to you or connected to what you plan on studying or doing as a profession.
  • Pay attention to any directions regarding topic as these will influence what you research.

Source Instructions 

  • There may be rules about the types of sources you're allowed to use.
  • The types of sources required by your assignment can influence what you can write about and how you can write about it.
    • Ex: if you are required to use a scholarly source and you choose a topic based on a current event (something that has happened in recent weeks or months), then you might have a hard time finding a scholarly source addressing that specific event.
    • You might need to broaden your search for scholarly sources to that type of event or similar events that have happened in the past.

Instructions Regarding Order

  • Some research assignments ask you to complete tasks in a specific order.
  • Others leave it up to you to choose a topic, refine your topic, search for sources, evaluate and select sources, and then use sources as evidence in your paper or assignment.
  • Pay attention to the tasks the assignment asks you to complete.
    • If you have a very large research assignment, you may want to break up the tasks and give them an order or timeline of completion to better manage your time.

Brainstorming Ideas

Brainstorming Topic Ideas 

Create multiple topic ideas for a research assignment. It's tempting to decide on a topic immediately and never deviate from your first choice. By brainstorming several ideas, you provide yourself with multiple options for successful research.

You have also taken the time to reflect on what you know and what you want to learn more about, which is one of the main purposes of research assignments.

Step 1: List three topic ideas for your assignment.

  • Consider the requirements of the assignment.
  • Are there any parameters or rules about the topics you can choose? 
  • If you are stuck, try listing ideas related to:
    • Your favorite subject
    • A hobby
    • Or a current event.  

Step 2: Pick one idea and answer the following questions.  

  • What do I know about this idea? Write 3 things.  
  • What do I think I know about this idea but am not totally sure about? Write 3 things. 
  • What do I not know about this idea but need/want to find out? Write 3 things.  

Step 3: Consider how the topic ideas fit your assignment.  

  • What makes one of your topic ideas fit better than another? 
  • What makes a topic too broad for this assignment? 
    • Too much to write about and your paper will lack focus.
  • What makes a topic too narrow for this assignment?  
    • Not enough to write about and you won't meet requirements.