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Research Guides

English Composition Student Research Guide: Research Topics

A guide for students in ENGL 109, 110, 111, 121, 131, 281, and other composition courses.

Defining Your Research Topic

The first step in the research process is to select a topic. The topic you choose should be neither too broad nor too narrow in scope. Rather, it should be specific with some well-defined boundaries. To help you define a research topic, consult background resources, such as scholarly encyclopedias, to learn more about your topic and to find recommended related articles and books on the topic. If, when you search for sources on your topic, you get too many results, you may want to narrow your topic further. If you get too few, you may need to broaden its scope.

Other elements you may want to consider to help you define your topic include:

  • Geographic Location: Where does the topic take place?
  • Time Period: When did your topic become important or of issue?
  • Population Type: Who are the people involved or affected?
  • Point of view: What is the lens through with you are considering your topic (e.g., economic, social, cultural, biological)?

Developing a Research Question

Once you have defined your research topic, brainstorm a list of search terms, and explore some books and articles to get an overview of your topic, you will need to develop a research question. While your research topic may be as simple as "vegetarianism," your research question will be more specific. It asks:

  1. What is your initial research topic?
  2. What additional information on your topic do you need?
  3. Why do you want to know that information?