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Research Paper Topics

Finding a Topic for Your Research Paper.

What Is A Research Paper?

“A research paper is the culmination and final product of an involved process of research, critical thinking, source evaluation, organization, and composition…A research paper is not simply an informed summary of a topic by means of primary and secondary sources. It is neither a book report nor an opinion piece nor an expository essay consisting solely of one’s interpretation of a text nor an overview of a particular topic. Instead, it is a genre that requires one to spend time investigating and evaluating sources with the intent to offer interpretations of the texts, and not unconscious regurgitations of those sources. The goal of a research paper is not to inform the reader what others have to say about a topic, but to draw on what others have to say about a topic and engage the sources in order to thoughtfully offer a unique perspective on the issue at hand. This is accomplished through two major types of research papers” (“Genre and the Research Paper”).

” Good research is cautious about drawing conclusions, careful to identify uncertainties and avoids exaggerated claims. It demands multiple types of evidence to prove a point. It does not assume that  association (things occur together) proves causation (one thing causes another). Bad research often contains jumps in logic, spurious arguments, and non-sequiturs (“it does not follow”)… Good research may use anecdotal evidence (examples selected to illustrate a concept), but does not rely on them to draw conclusions, because examples can be found that prove almost anything. More statistically-valid analysis is usually needed for reliable proof” (Litman).

STEP ONE.  Find your general topic.

What are your interests?  passions?  career choices?  It is most important that you choose a topic that truly interests you and a topic you want to know more about.  Be sure that your topic is something that is debatable with no clear obvious answer.

Check out websites that have topic possibilities:


Site 1 with topic ideas
Site 2 with topic ideas ProCon


Site 3 with topic ideas


STEP TWO.  Narrow your topic by creating an essential question.

First, you must remember that your research paper must be persuasive.  You are attempting to convince your audience to either think or do something.

Second, there must be legitimate debate about the topic.  While some people will argue for the sake of argument, legitimate debate means that professionals and/or scholars can make a real case for their side of the debate.  For instance, no one is really debating whether or not America has an obesity problem.  The experts all agree that there is a problem.  The debate is not IF there is a problem, but what  to DO about the problem.

Third, your paper is essentially going to answer a question.  The question is the center of the legitimate debate.  This is the essential question.  What is it you really want to know? to prove?  Is it debatable?

I like to start my essential question with the word should because to ask should is to ask a question that is automatically debatable.  It helps to have an intended audience in your essential question as well.

Ex: Should the American military use drones to spy on allies?


Essential Questions should be:

a question which requires the student to develop a plan or course of action. a question that requires the student to make a decision.
Example essential questions: writing the essential question


Essential Question

Essential Question examples

Examples from the NY Times


STEP THREE.  Answer your essential question. 

Once you have an essential question, you must do research.  Finding reliable sources can be difficult online.  Do not just google your topic.

In your research, you are looking for the answers to your essential question – should they?  WHY should they?

Once you have the research in hand, you will answer your essential question in a complete sentence using the question:
Ex: The American military should use drones to spy on allies because foreign intelligence is vital to domestic security.This becomes your Thesis Statement.

To understand the thesis statement better, visit the thesis statement page.

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