Choosing a Topic

Choosing a good topic is harder than it sounds!
The best academic researchers spend years developing the skills necessary to ask interesting questions that lead to the discovery of new information and knowledge. 

Find an angle
Take the 5 W’s approach: Who? What? When? Where? Why?  Once you start answering these questions, the various angles of the topic start to come into focus. Identify key issues, controversies or themes while gathering background information. Keep in mind that you are asking a question to solve a problem.

Picking Your Topic IS Research

What are keywords?

Keywords are words that you use to search (whether Google or library databases). Let's say you are interested in finding out more about the following topic:

"Does the existence of vending machines in schools contribute to rates of childhood obesity?"

Your keywords might be: vending machines and schools and childhood obesity.

You can make your search stronger by brainstorming or finding synonyms for your keywords. So, you might also try searching for variations of the terms or narrower/broader terms.

  • vending machines: soda, snacks, soft drinks
  • childhood obesity: child obesity, teenage obesity
  • schools: education, middle school, high school

Identifying unique keywords will help you find the most relevant material in your searches. Watch the brief video below to see how one student breaks down her topic into keywords.

Getting started with background information

You can probably find an overview of a given topic in one of these resources (it's a good idea to know a little something* about the topic before you look for scholarly articles):

Make sure to evaluate all sources for authority, credibility, format and relevance. 

* 1-min rule:  You can talk about your topic for 1 minute uninterrupted, without consulting outside sources or repeating yourself.