How do you decide what to write about in a research paper?
Discover a focused topic:
Make sure your topic meets the assignment requirements. If you are unsure, ask your professor for feedback;
Choose a topic that is interesting to you;
Choose a topic that others have written about in order to find enough resources;
Consider the scope of your topic. Is it too broad or too narrow?
Here is an example of a topic that is too broad:
Here is an example of a topic that is too narrow:
Strategies for an effective research question
Background research will help you learn more about your topic, find keywords, and refine your research question.
Brainstorm related concepts and keywords. For example, if your topic is "polar bears" write down synonymous words or related topics: ice, cubs, global warming, hunting, diet, and "environmental icon".
Limit your scope to manage your research. If you use a historical angle, then focus on a particular time period; for a geographical angle, focus on a particular part of the world; or a sociological angle, focus on a particular group of people.
Start exploratory, in-depth research. As you start in-depth research, look for scholarly articles and books, then refine your topic based on what you find. Research is a dynamic process!
Resources that help with topic development:
Talk to your instructor or the librarians at UMBC.
Read your course readings and class notes for ideas.
Wikipedia and Google provide background material, but not necessarily reliable information.
Subject Guides, created by librarians at UMBC, identify subject encyclopedias, books, databases, and other scholarly materials.