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Choosing a Research Topic


If you are starting a research project and would like some help choosing the best topic, this guide is for you.  Start by asking yourself these questions:

What does your instructor require?
What interests you?
What information sources can support your research?
What is doable in the time you have?

While keeping these questions in mind, find suggestions in this guide to select a topic, turn that topic into a database search, and make your research manageable.  You will also find more information in our About the Research Process guide.

Where to Find Ideas

Whether your instructor has given a range of possible topics to you or you have to come up with a topic on your own, you could benefit from these activities:

Consult Course Materials
If a reading, film, or other resource is selected by your instructor, the subject of it is important to the course. You can often find inspiration for a paper in these materials.

  • Is a broad topic presented?  You can focus on a specific aspect of that topic.  For example, if your class viewed a film on poverty in the United States, you could look at poverty in a specific city or explore how poverty affects Americans of a specific gender, ethnic group, or age range.
  • Are experts presented, quoted, or cited?  Look up their work in BU Libraries Search or Google Scholar.


Use Background Sources
If you've identified one or more topics you'd like to investigate further, look them up in an encyclopedia, handbook, or other background information source.  Here are some good places to start.


Explore the Scholarly Literature
Ask your instructor or a librarian to guide you to the top journals in the field you're studying.  Scanning the tables of contents within these journals will provide some inspiration for your research project.  As a bonus, each of the articles in these journals will have a bibliography that will lead you to related articles, books, and other materials.


Ask a Librarian
We are here to help you!  You can request a consultation or contact us by email or through our chat service.  We can help you identify what interests you, where to find more about it, and how to narrow the topic to something manageable in the time you have.

Persuasive Paper Assignments

If your assignment entails persuading a reader to adopt a position, you can conduct your research in the same way you would with any other research project. The biggest mistake you can make, however, is choosing a position before you start your research.  Instead, the information you consult should inform your position.  Researching before choosing a position is also much easier; you will be able to explore all sides of a topic rather than limiting yourself to one.

If you would like examples of debates on controversial topics, try these resources:

Dissertations and Theses

If you are writing a dissertation or thesis, you will find more specialized information at our Guide for Writers of Theses and Dissertations.

If you would like to find published dissertations and theses, please use this database: