2.1 Finding Topic Ideas

I. Checking Assignment Requirements

Before you start browsing for ideas, check the assignment requirements carefully to make sure your topic satisfies your instructor's requirement.

  • Topic criteria - current or historical? Any geographic restriction (such as within U.S., local)? Related to specific a group (such as teenagers, college students, women)?
  • Types of assignment - informative, argumentative, or persuasive? A paper or a presentation? Do you need to offer your own opinions?
  • Length of you paper - how many pages? How long is the presentation?
  • Types of sources - some instructors require students to use scholarly journals and/or sources published within a certain period, etc.
  • Other - due date, citation style, etc.

All these will affect your choice of topic. For example, if your instructor wants you to write a 10-page argumentative paper related to a historical event in the United States, choose a historical event that is controversial or has aroused debates. And make sure it happened in the United States, and there should be enough information for you to spread it out into 10 pages.

II. Browsing Topic Ideas

In general, you can find topic ideas from different sources, such as:

  • Books & Textbooks - table of contents, index
  • Library Databases - SIRS Knowledge Source, CQ Researcher Online, FACTS on File
  • Magazines & newspapers - summaries, first & last paragraphs of the articles

If your topic is related to a particular field, browsing the table of contents of your textbook or a book related to your course can give you some ideas. You can choose a big topic of interest and then go into a more focused area. For example, if your instructor allows you to choose any topic for your psychology paper and you are interested in social psychology, you can browse the topics within social psychology and choose a few topics that you are more interested in, such as aggression, prejudice, personality theories, social roles, etc.

Some of the library research databases offer topic ideas, such as SIRS Knowledge Source, FACTS on File, CQ Research Online, etc. You can learn how to use these databases to find topic ideas and background information by watching the following videos.

2.11 Finding topic ideas in SIRS Knowledge Source (video 3:30)

2.12 Finding topic ideas in CQ Researcher Online (video 4:27)

Next session: 2.2 Choosing and Developing a Topic