Skip to Main Content

Topic Selection & Development

Guides students through the essentials of topic selection and development

Preliminary Reading on Databases

According to the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers:

“Preliminary reading is essential as you evaluate and refine your topic.”

Browsing articles and videos on the web is one form of preliminary reading. It is a solid first step because it allows you to access a variety of engaging sources as you begin to learn about your topic and figure out your approach.

When you are choosing and developing a topic for a college course, you must also delve a little deeper by exploring more academic sources. This way you can be sure your topic is represented in the types of sources your professor will expect you to use in college-level work. For instance:

Preliminary Reading: The Basics

More on Refining (Narrowing) Topics

Researchers can spend their entire careers exploring a single topic. They publish books and articles on the topic, conduct studies to learn more about it, present information to audiences at conferences, teach classes about it, etc. 

As a student, you don’t have a lifetime to devote to your topic; rather, you will have just a few weeks to produce a 6-10 page research paper or a 5-8 minute speech.

Once you identify a topic you need to find a manageable focus for your work.  Focusing a topic involves clearly defining the specific aspect of the topic you will be exploring in your paper. Preliminary reading is a great strategy. How are other authors and researchers are exploring your topic? What are the main issues surrounding this issue? Which specific issues appeal to you? u

Other methods by which you can begin to focus:

Go back to “why” you chose your topic. What made you choose your topic in the first place? Are upi interested in global warming because you're worried about how rising ocean temperatures will effect the whales? Perhaps your interest in social media centers around a curiosity about how heavy social media use affects mental health? Sometimes articulating the “why” out loud will directly reveal the direction you want to go with your topic. 

Get Help! Take advantage of your professor's office hour and/or chat with a research librarian. Your professor has likely seen both successful and unsuccessful topics choices for their assignment and can provide useful guidance. Research librarians work with students all day long, and can also provide ideas on how to successfully refine your topic.