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CMP101 Composition 1 - Santos: Choosing a Topic

Choosing a Topic

1. Make sure you choose a topic that interests you - you'll try harder to dig and find the best sources for your research; these ("the best ones") should make writing your paper easier.

2. Do some presearching on your topic - this will help you create a knowledge base for the subject matter and provide you a basic understanding of the topic before delving into very targeted or specific research sources that may be written in highly technical language. You are also testing the waters to make sure there is enough information out there on your topic. Preliminary research on your topic allows you to revise your topic as necessary; looking at it either on a broader or narrower scale, or completely tossing it out and choosing another.

3. Consider why it is important to know something about this topic. Understanding the why of your topic will help to explain, illustrate and draw out the issues and controversies that surround your topic that you will develop further in your paper. 


Great sources for preliminary searching on your topic:


As you review entries, make note of any key terminology that you may be able to use for search vocabulary in future resources and mine bibliographies for potentially useful sources for your research.


4. Frame your research around a manageable question.

When choosing your topic, consider...

  • Review the guidelines on topic selection outlined in your assignment.  Ask your professor or TA for suggestions.
  • Refer to lecture notes and required texts to refresh your knowledge of the course and assignment.
  • Talk about research ideas with a friend.  S/he may be able to help focus your topic by discussing issues that didn't occur to you at first.
  • Think of the who, what, when, where and why questions:
    • WHY did you choose the topic?  What interests you about it?  Do you have an opinion about the issues involved?
    • WHO are the information providers on this topic?  Who might publish information about it?  Who is affected by the topic?  Do you know of organizations or institutions affiliated with the topic?
    • WHAT are the major questions for this topic?  Is there a debate about the topic?  Are there a range of issues and viewpoints to consider?
    • WHERE is your topic important: at the local, national or international level?  Are there specific places affected by the topic?
    • WHEN is/was your topic important?  Is it a current event or an historical issue?  Do you want to compare your topic by time periods?

Concept Mapping

Concept Maps or Mind Maps allow you to explore the interconnectedness of topics and subtopics visually. Laying out your ideas in a map may help you to solidify a decision about which narrowed aspect of topic you wish to pursue more in-depth.

Two tools you can use:

Here is an example of how to create a Concept Map from Douglas College Library:

Using Wikipedia for Academic Research

Wikipedia is an example of another online encyclopedia you could use to explore your research topic and develop search vocabulary.

The Penn State University Libraries have created a video called How to Use Wikipedia that shows how Wikipedia can be used beneficially in the research process with certain cautionary measures.

  • Wikipedia matters because it is the largest free source of information in the world.
  • Wikipedia is challanged as a viable source of information because the author's credentials are sometimes difficult to establish.
  • Content considered to be useful for your research found in Wikipedia should be confirmed through a second source.
  • Wikipedia should not be sourced in a paper.