Choosing a Topic
The first step of any research paper is to understand the assignment. If this is not done, you will often travel down dead-end roads, wasting time along the way. Make sure you know the parameters:
- Is the topic area already defined by the instructor or is it open-ended?
- What kind of assignment is it? A research paper will have different requirements than a simpler assignment.
- If it's a paper, are there length requirements?
- Are there requirements about the quantitiy and types of resources you must use?
Once you have the answers to these questions, you can get started on selecting a topic. Brainstorming can be a successful way to get some ideas down on paper. Seeing one's ideas in writing is often an impetus for the writing process. Though brainstorming is particularly effective when a topic has been chosen, it can also be a way to help narrow a topic. Make it a timed writing session and jot down in list or bulleted form any ideas that come to your mind. At the end of the timed period, peruse your list for patterns. If it appears that something seems to be standing out in your mind, pursue this as a topic possibility.
Keep in mind that an initial topic may not be the exact topic about which you end up writing. Research topics are often fluid, and dictated more by your ongoing research than by the original topic. Such fluidity is common in research, and should be embraced as one of its many characteristics.
Begin your research by collecting background information on your subject. Background information might include an overview of the topic, educate you about subject-specific terminology, and give you ideas about how to focus your research. A good way to do this is by using reference resources, which will not only give you an overview of the subject, but also usually include citations that can help you take the next steps in your research.
Sources of Pro/Con Information
Sometimes it's useful to explore both sides of a topic. These resources help you do that:
“View from the Window at Le Gras” (1826) by Joseph Niepce