Research @ Longwood: Choose a Topic

Get help with any stage of your research project!

Determining Your Assignment

Before selecting a topic, you must understand the given assignment. Start by asking yourself the questions provided below. Your responses will guide you in the right direction.

  1. What kind of information do I need? (records, background, statistics...)
  2. How much information do I need?
  3. How much time am I allotted for this assignment?
  4. Where would I like to find information? (books, articles, the web, etc.)
  5. How am I relating the information? (in a paper, speech, class presentation...)
  6. Who is my audience?

Finding and Choosing a Topic

These videos will introduce what a topic is and how to choose one. As always, you can ask a librarian if you need help!

What Makes a Good Topic?

Everyone holds different ideas of what constitutes a good topic, but overall, a sufficient topic will address at least a few of the concerns:

  • Does the topic follow the guidelines of the given assignment? Always keep in mind your instructor's requirements     before you settle on a topic.
  • Will enough outside resources be found on the topic? Consider all available resources including the library catalog, data bases, and literature reviews.
  • Is it a significant and valuable topic?
  • Are you personally fascinated by the topic?By finding a topic that grabs your attention, you will find yourself more inspired to discover all that you possibly can on your topic.

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How to narrow a topic

If your topic is too broad, you might have a hard time because you find way too many resources, or ones that don't address everything you're trying to cover.

Example: I'm thinking of doing a paper on fashion. This topic could develop in many different ways.

Hint: Ask Yourself Questions About Your Topic:

  • What do you know about it? What don't you know?
  • What aspects of your topic interest you: historical, sociological, psychological, etc.?
  • What time period do you want to cover?
  • On what geographic region do you want to focus?
  • What kind of information do you need?
    • A brief summary or a lengthy explanation?
    • Periodical articles, books, essays, encyclopedia articles?
    • Statistics?

Sample Topic Narrowing Chart:

General Topic: fashion
Time span: 1920s
Place: US; urban; big cities (not rural)
Person or group: youth; college age
Event or Aspects: sexual attitudes; behavior; sociological

How to broaden a topic

Sometimes topics are so narrow, you can't find much, if anything, to support your research.

Example: I'm thinking of doing a paper on whether genetically altered soybeans grown in Virginia are safe for consumers.

This topic as stated is seeking to answer a question for which there may be no answer yet -- more scientific and long-term research may need to be done. How can this be turned into a more manageable topic?

Hint 1: Look for parallels and opportunities for broader associations:

  • Do the crops have to come from Virginia? Removing a geographic limiter from your topic will make it broader. 
  • Could you examine other bioengineered foods, in addition to soybeans?
  • Could you think broadly about safety concerns and issues -- what might these be?
  • Who are the key players in this controversy? Consumer activists? The FDA? Scientists?
  • What other issues are involved in this topic? Such as, how should be foods be labeled?

Hint 2: Brainstorm! (and ask a librarian!)

Sample Topic Broadening Chart:

Specific Topic: Are genetically altered soybeans grown in Virginia safe for consumers?
Alternate focus: bioengineered or genetically altered foods
Alternate Place: general: US, Europe
Brainstorm Focus on:
Person or Group:
consumer advocates vs FDA and scientists
Brainstorm Focus on:
Event or Aspect:
labeling foods; regulations

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