Finding a Topic

Brainstorming

An important initial step is to brainstorm.

Free Topic

Sometimes the teacher allows students to choose their own topics. This can be intimidating: what to choose when we can choose anything? Consider your interests, and think about how those interest can relate to the class assignment. Then brainstorm all the elements you could research.

Choose From Possible Topics

Occasionally, the teacher will provide a number of topics. Brainstorm and free write about each one and see which topic provides the most writing. This will indicate a higher degree of interest.

Topic Provided

If the teacher has provided the topic, do some free writing about your first impressions.  Be sure to include questions you have about the text (things you didn’t understand). These can yield your most fruitful brainstorming sessions

Focusing: From a Broad Topic to a Narrow Topic (A Hypothesis)

Once you have a few possible topics, it’s time to start narrowing them down. Imagine you’ve just read Anne Frank’s diary and you want to write something about the Holocaust. Whole books have been written about the Holocaust; how can you possibly cover it in a research paper? You cant, so you’ll have to narrow it down. Here are some ways to do it:

  1. Consider the topic for an isolated group: women in the Holocaust; children in the Holocaust; non-Jews in the Holocaust.
  2. Narrow down the time period: the last days of the Holocaust; the beginnings of the Holocaust.
  3. Narrow down the location: the Holocaust in Poland; the Holocaust at Auschwitz; the Holocaust in Germany.
  4. Compare your topic to similar: the Holocaust compared to the genocide in Rwanda; the Holocaust compared to the genocide in Darfur.

There are many other ways to narrow a topic, but it always involves getting more specific. Using the “wh” questions will help narrow it down.

Once you’ve narrowed your topic, restate it in a sentence. This is your initial, working  hypothesis.

Focusing Further: From a Focused Topic to Questions

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