Coming up with a topic for your paper can sometimes be the hardest or most frustrating part of the research process. It can be intimidating to have a big library research task in front of you. Don't worry--just about everyone feels this way at some point!
And it's O.K. to not feel completely confident about your topic. That is why we do research: to see what is already out there, and then come to a conclusion or make an argument. It may take several iterations before you settle on a final topic or thesis. That's why it's important to start as early as you can, so that you still have enough time for the searching and exploring stage.
See the Finding and Exploring Your Topic Research Guide for more in-depth help for this stage of your research.
The library has several series of books and specialized databases which summarize both sides of an issue. These may help you develop a topic, and help you track down appropriate research. To find these books go to Library Catalog Search, and search one of the following:
Databases & Websites
Sometimes a topic that seems like the right size for your paper can seem way too big after you’ve learned a little more about it. When this happens, you need to narrow the focus of your paper. You can do this by considering different ways to restrict your paper topic.
Some of the ways you can limit your paper topic are by:
For example, a paper about alcohol use would be very broad. But a paper about reasons for alcohol abuse by female college students in the United States during the 1990s might be just right.
Sometimes you will find that your topic is too narrow - there is not enough published on your topic. When this happens, you can try to broaden your topic. There are a couple of strategies you can try when broadening your topic.
One strategy is to choose less specific terms for your search, e.g., standardized tests instead of SATs, or performance-enhancing drugs instead of anabolic steroids.
Another strategy is to broaden your topic by changing or removing limits or filters from your topic:
For example, a paper about alcohol use by college students at the University of Michigan in 1984 might be too narrow of a focus. But a paper about alcohol use by college students in the 1980s might be just right.