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Research Guides

Topic Tips

Some practical tips on choosing a topic:

  • Choose an event or topic that occurred in the 19th or 20th centuries. Why? There are more primary sources available such as newspapers, magazines, photographs, etc.
  • Choose an event or topic that takes place in the United States. Why? As an American library we have more primary sources dealing with the United States than with other countries.
  • Choose an event or topic that takes place in a country that once was an English colony. Why? These countries will more likely have English-language primary sources. 
  • Choose an event or topic where there are many good secondary sources. Why? When there are many secondary sources it usually means that there are plenty of primary sources and those secondary sources will list them in their bibliographies.
  • Choose an event that took place more than 20 years ago. Why? It is difficult to assess what sort of impact a very recent event will have plus it is more difficult to distinguish between primary and secondary sources for current events.

Topic Ideas

The hardest part of research is coming up with a research topic or question. Three important things to keep in mind: 

  1. Your research topic should first of all be interesting to you -- you'll be spending a lot of time and work on your History Day project so be sure to choose a topic that you are eager to learn more about.
  2. Choose a topic where there is enough evidence (primary and secondary sources) that you can use (in languages that you read, that are accessible) for your research.
  3. Choose a topic of the "right" size. Topics that are too narrow may not be historically important or significant and you may not find much evidence. Topics that are very broad may be too complex for a History Day project.


Where can you find some possible topic ideas?


  • Look at the Breaking Barriers in History: Sample Topics handout for ideas that work best at the UW Libraries.
  • Take a look at this year's theme, Breaking Barriers in History. The theme narrative may give you some ideas.
  • Browse the Washington History Day Topic Guide for local history topics.
  • Browse the History Day Topic Guides & Bibliographies -- perhaps one of these topics would work for you.
  • Brainstorm some ideas alone or with friends. Take 3 minutes and jot down possible topics -- subjects that have always interested you. Once you are finished read through the list and see if any of the topics can be transformed into a history-related subject.
  • Read today's newspaper. Are there historical concerns related to the news?
  • Browse through some books especially history encyclopedias for ideas.


Once you come up with a topic that you think will work check with your teacher and school librarian. Your teachers and librarians will be able to help refine your idea and give you leads on where to begin your research.