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Selecting Your Topic

Choosing an appropriate topic is one of the first things you have to consider when writing a research paper.  While this may seem straight-forward, if you haven't chosen wisely, you may discover the following common problems as you begin to conduct your research.

Common Pitfalls

1. Too much information 

Your topic is likely too broad.  If the topic you choose is too broad, you will quickly run into information overload.  Plus, you will not be able to discuss the topic with adequate depth within the scope of your paper.

Examples: Energy sources, Software, Addictions, Entrepreneurship

2. Not enough information

Your topic is likely too narrow.  If the topic you choose is too narrow or obscure, you will experience difficulty locating any information on the topic -- unless you are prepared to conduct your own primary research, of course.  In particular, avoid making your topic too locally confined. Depending on the criteria for your assignment, it is not always necessary to constrain your research to a city, province, or country. In addition, if your topic is too narrow you will find it difficult to find enough to write about on the topic within the required length of your paper.

Examples: The incidence of cancer in children exposed to second-hand smoke living in Toronto in the 1990s.

3. Lots of information on the Web, but nothing in library databases

This could be caused by one of two problems.  Either your topic is too popular (rather than scholarly), or too recent.  There are many popular topics that make it into academic literature.  However, sports figures, rock music, or car models (to name a few) tend to get much more discussion in pop culture than in academia.  Similarly, some topics may be so new that academics have not yet been able to publish journal articles, let alone books, on the topic yet.  Newspapers and popular magazines may provide some insights or predictions, but depending on the assignment criteria, you might consider rethinking your topic.


To improve your topic, you will need to do some exploring, and defining.