[Library lessons] Choosing a topic

We have a section of our Smart Student Library Guide that is devoted to choosing a topic.  There are some examples there to get you started on thinking about how to narrow your topic.

The guide is really helpful, but I also want to throw in my two cents here.

Does this sound familiar?  You are told that your paper has to be on a certain topic (usually the topic of your course).  You could write a book about it, it’s so big.  But instead of trying to narrow down your topic, you go look for an article.  If you can find an article, you could build your paper around that, and – voila! – your topic will magically be narrowed in the process.

I wish.

I have written too many papers to know this will happen.  Your professors have written and read too many papers to know this will happen.  You really have to narrow down your topic a bit in advance, or your research time is going to be wasted, and you’re going to have a hard time writing anything.

Figure out your topic first.  Sure, you might get started and then realize that, no, this topic bores you to tears and you’d rather switch to this other topic you’ve discovered along the way.  That’s okay.  (As long as your professor doesn’t mind you switching topics.)  Just don’t try to research a really general topic and hope to find one perfect article and build a paper around it.  That’s really hard.  Don’t make things harder on yourself.

Be bold. Stake a claim.  Find evidence to support it.  You might find that taking a stance and arguing a point is actually kind of fun.

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