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Topic Selection & Development

Guides students through the essentials of topic selection and development

Databases For Finding Topics

You can get ideas for research topics from several MJC article databases. A benefit of using databases? The databases not only provide topic ideas, but will also provide great information to help you flesh out these ideas, as well as providing credible sources supporting your work.

Essential Considerations


Here are some basic questions to consider before you settle upon a topic:

  • Will it fit the guidelines laid out in my professor's prompt?
  • Will I be able to find enough appropriate sources on this topic?
  • Is the topic meaningful or interesting to me?

Assignment Guidelines

You need choose a topic that conforms to your professor's assignment guidelines. Examine the prompt carefully and ask your professor for clarification when needed. MJC Librarians are also happy to help you break down the prompt.

Important guidelines include:

Topics: Has your instructor assigned a particular topic or theme? Has she provided a list of potential topics from which you can choose? 

Length: Is there a minimum number words/pages/minutes required? How about a maximum?

Mode of presentation: What are you required to do with your topic? Inform? Analyze? Argue? Persuade? Solve? Compare/Contrast?

Sources: Are there a minimum number of sources you are required to use? Does your instructor require (or disallow) certain types of sources?

Availability of Credible Sources

Are sources of information readily available on your topic? Are these credible sources, suitable for inclusion on an academic bibliography? HOW DO YOU KNOW?

Try doing some preliminary reading to get an idea of what is available not only on the Web, but in more consistently credible sources found in the MJC Library databases. You can learn more about preliminary reading in the next section. 

Having Something to Say

Producing a 2500 word research paper or an eight-minute speech is a lot less stressful if you go into the project with some ideas of what you want to say. It will be a lot more gratifying to find and read your sources if you have a genuine connection to your topic. Start with  topics that you already know something about, have firm opinions on, first-hand experience with, or simply a burning curiosity to learn more about. Taking a personal inventory is a great way to find a meaningful topic.

Below are some good questions to ask when you are brainstorming potential topics.

  1. What defines you outside of school? What inspires you, moves you, entertains you? What draws you into discussions -- or arguments -- on your favorite social media sites?
  2. What challenges do you, and those you care about face? Physical challenges? Psychological or emotional challenges? Challenges related to finances or employment status?  Relationships with family and friends?? 
  3. What political and/or social issues effect you or worry you or inspire you to activism? The environment? The economic divide? The education system? Animal rights? Food and nutrition? The U.S. political landscape?