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Composition II Research Guide for ENGL 102: Developing a Topic

Fall 2018

Developing a Topic

Doing background research (that is, finding out the scholarly consensus on a topic) is crucial to finding a good research question. Don't shortchange this step! This page contains some tips and useful resources for topic exploration and development.

Online Reference

Issues-Oriented Databases

These are great places to begin research on current issues. Opposing Viewpoints and Points of View Reference Center contain viewpoints on current and controversial issues, but also much more: a variety of articles from magazines or scholarly journals, government information and primary sources, depending on the database.

From Topic to Research Question


California State University San Bernardino John M. Pfau Library

Wilfrid Laurier University Library


Developing a topic info graphic see following box for text

Deciding on a Topic

  • READ your assignment!  Many times your professor has told  you what topics are acceptable and which ones are forbidden or over done such as gun control or abortion. Also try your text book or suggested reading from the professor for ideas.
  • Choose a topic that interests you (and your professor/readers), it is easier to write about something that interests you than something you find boring.
  • If your paper is an argumentative/persuasive paper you need to pick a topic that is controversial, one that has many sides or views to the topic. Be cautious of picking a topic you are TOO passionate about because you may not be willing to see all sides of the topic.
  • Watch or Read the news to find out what is going on in your Town, State, Country or the World.
  • Still stumped?  Look at the listing of Topic Finder Websites that includes news sites, pro / con websites, statistics and trending topics for ideas.
  • Google the topic, is there any information on the topic?
    • Make a list of words, names, and important information about the topic to be used in future searching​
  • Search a database for articles - Choose a topic scholars have written about (many research papers require that you cite scholarly sources)
  • Choose a topic appropriate to the length of your paper (if you find tons of articles it usually indicates you need to narrow your topic)
    • remember many topics are very broad but you can choose just a small portion of the main topic. For example, immigration is a huge topic but the use of immigrants in agricultural labor is a specific piece of the big topic.
  • Ask for help--both your professor and librarians are great resources to help narrow topics

Topic Finder & Mind Mapping

Topic Finder is a tool offered by the Academic One File database.  Topic Finder is an algorithm that looks at your broad topic and breaks it down graphically into titles and subjects based on content in the database.  This visual breakdown of your topic can help you focus your topic from the broad general search into a more manageable topic. It can also help you see other elements involved in your topic idea.  See the page all about using this tool including a video.

Mind Mapping is a brainstorming tool from Credo that offers a visual representation of how topics are interrelated.Credo also offers Topic Pages which take a topic and offers background information, context and links to help explore the topic in more detail. The Topic Pages also offer articles related to the topic.