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Information Literacy, Level One: Choosing your research topic

This guide is designed to support the Information Literacy unit within ENG 111, but also provide a first-level introduction to research skills for any Meredith College student.

Choosing a topic

If your instructor doesn't give you a topic, you may be faced with the challenge of picking one.  Here are some questions to ask about any topic you're considering:

1) Does it interest me?

  • Research is hard work and takes time, so picking a topic that you'll enjoy exploring makes it much easier to do
  • It helps if your topic is connected to your personal interests, career goals, something that a relative or friend has experienced, or even something interesting that you recently read
  • If you already know something about it, that gives you a head-start; however, you still need to gather information sources to provide evidence for your claims

2) Does it fit the assignment?

  • Is the paper or presentation supposed to involve summary, analysis, or argument?  Either way, be sure that your topic lends itself to that type of paper.
  • Check what type of sources are required and whether your topic can be explored in them.  For example, if your topic is a newer issue, you may not be able to find books about it.
  • Keep the length in mind: don't try to write a five-page paper about a yes/no question, a simple cut-and-dried issue, or a topic that would require 300 pages to adequately address

3) Is it researchable?

  • Do some initial searching in a library tool like OneSearch to ensure that there are enough good sources out there
  • Some popular or local topics may be personally interesting to you, but there may not be enough books or articles about them
  • If your topic is too current (for example, an event from the past few weeks), scholars won't have had time to analyze and write about it yet

Asking questions

Research involves an investigation.  Just as detectives ask questions of witnesses and suspects in order to solve a case, you need to ask questions that can be answered by books and articles in order to better understand your topic.  The information you get from these sources becomes the "evidence" that you use to support your thesis.

A topic can inspire many different questions.  Take teenage obesity.  Here are a few questions you could ask:

1) How have fast-food eating habits contributed to the rise in obesity?

2) How has social media impacted the self-image of overweight teens?

3) Should schools change their school lunch plans or require more PE to combat obesity?

This three-minute video from the ProQuest Research Companion emphasizes the importance of asking good questions:

Picking your topic is research

Courtesy of NCSU Libraries

Brainstorming tool: Credo mind maps

Our Credo Reference database has a mind map tool that might help you brainstorm topic ideas.  On the Credo Reference homepage, enter a word or phrase related to a topic of interest into the search box and run your search.  On the right, you'll see a Mind Map for your topic, which can give you suggestions for related concepts and topics.  You can click any of the words or phrases on the map, and see a new map about that concept.


Mind map for social work