Finding a topic for your research paper is probably the most challenging step you can come across while preparing for your paper. With a lot of suggestions and propositions, you may feel exhausted and “lost” by the breadth of choice. Sometimes, you might be assigned a specific subject to prepare and search by your professor, and even the sources you ought to consult. Then, ho, cheer up! Everything is fine. However, students sometimes have a wide range of choices—most of the time, domains and fields in which they may research a specific topic and, therefore, a specific thesis statement. And maybe none! Either way, this how-to guide will help you to start off devising the appropriate topic, and suggest you the most reliable criteria to select your subject.
Part 1 : Finding a topic
Keep in mind three important yardsticks at all times. There are three yardsticks you can remind yourself of when it comes to selecting a proper subject for your research. These are largely:
Understand these yardsticks. In deciding “whether you can handle the subject”, there are certain considerations you have to take into account:
Distinguish between a topic/field of research and theme/thesis statement.The “topic” is the field in which your research and writing will be done. It is the framework of what you are researching. It is “the big picture”; the ” theme ” is the central statement you will make about the topic. It is, the theme, a hypothesis—a tentative statement—to be established or refuted by the research. It is “the small picture”.
Part 2 : Checking the feasibility of the topic
Do preliminary reading and research. The preliminary reading of sources has three goals:
Read for usefulness at this stage, not depth. Up to this phase, you are not supposed to read every single source carefully and take complete notes. Read here and there in each source material, keeping in mind that you are searching for a topic that can be researched.
A sensible way to proceed is to read general academic articles, essays and papers on the subject. Now, you are beginning to see daylight and get down to topics you can handle.
Narrow your topic down! Break it down, so that you can arrive at a thesis statement. Let’s illustrate this. There are a lot of topics, fields, or frameworks to work on (Literature, Gender Studies, Cultural Studies, Media & Communication Studies, etc.). Let’s take the example of Media Studies. “Media studies” is the big picture. It’s very hard to cover every single detail in Media Studies. That said, you have to narrow that topic down—to break it down until you put your finger on a very specific subject through which you shall build your thesis statement up.
Start off the working bibliography. The working bibliography is your own list of works that you think might contain information you will need for your paper. It derives from your reading. On account of it being a tentative bibliography, 3-x-5 Bibliography Cards (also called index cards) should be used. For every book, article, website, etc. encountered, make out a card with the author’s full name, the title of the work, and the place and date of publication. It is important to make a card for every source consulted, even if the source finally is not used in the paper. The working bibliography shows all useful sources consulted whether or not specific material is taken from them. If the working bibliography is kept faithfully, there will be no last minute rushing about to relocate sources.
Once your topic has been selected and you have read some general works on the subject, the process of breaking the theme/thesis statement into several subdivisions and headings begins. Whenever you encounter a source with material on one of the subdivisions or headings you made, make out a 5-x-8 note card with the subject heading, a number that will relate this note card with its index card of the source, the page number, and the quotation, in case you quote directly from the source.
- MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (7th edition ed.). (2009). New York: The Modern Language Association of America.
- Murphy, E. E. (1985). Writing and Researching Term Papers and Reports: A New Guide for Students. Canada: Bantam Books, Inc.
- Strunk, W. (1959). The Elements of Style. New York.