Selecting a topic can be tricky. Your professor will usually assign a general theme that reflects the course material and your paper will need to focus on some aspect of that theme. Look through lecture notes and assigned readings to find a topic. Start by thinking of a topic you are interested in or curious about. Researching a topic that sparks your interest can be a great motivator.
Once you've selected a general topic, create a concept map. Concept maps help you identify subtopics and topic-related ideas.
Write down your central topic (if you don't have one yet, use the course theme). Around the central topic, write down as many subtopics as you can think of. Continue writing related ideas and subtopics. As you write, think about how the subtopics might interconnect with each other or how they relate. Think of questions you might have about those connections.
Close-ended questions can be answered by a simple "yes" or "no," whereas open-ended questions go beyond a simple answer and require mindful, detailed responses. Your research question should be open-ended. Open-ended questions require more critical thinking and sources of information to answer compared to close-ended questions.
Research questions often start with "how" or "why".
Here is an example of a close-ended question modified into an open-ended question:
Close-ended: Do many children in the U.S. have allergies?
Open-ended: How does country of birth affect a child's chances of developing asthma?
Once you have a basic understanding of your topic and the issues surrounding it, narrow your research question by asking the following questions:
It's okay for your research question to change over time as you find more information about your topic, or take out ideas that don't work.
For more help, check out the libraries' Quick How To page on Generating a Research Question.
Once you've identified a topic you'd like to explore further, take the time to get to know more about that topic. This step is called background research. Background research helps you:
Here are some sources of background information to consider as you explore your research topic:
The keywords you use are an important part of your search strategy. Keywords, or search words, are words or short phrases that represent the main ideas or concepts in your topic. Identify main concepts by writing down your research question and selecting nouns important to the meaning of your research question.
For example, the research question "How is climate change affecting agriculture in Nevada?" has three main concepts:
It's important to have additional keywords on hand, in case a search fails or doesn't produce desired results. For each main concept, write a list of related terms, synonyms, broader or narrower ideas. Brainstorm related terms, ask a classmate/professor/librarian for help, use a thesaurus, or continuing reading about your topic.
For more help, check out the Quick How To page on Choosing Keywords.