Choosing a topic for your paper

Ask yourself:

Is the Topic too big?

(If this is a research paper, trace the history of mankind from 10 BCE to 1908. Include two personal interviews)

Is the Topic too small?

(Why does my little brother always wear blue socks?)

Your Topic should have some general interest and be related to the subject for which the paper is assigned (While I am personally interested if your brother wears blue socks because he is paying an homage to impressionist painters, it is unlikely that your English Teacher cares.)

Is my Topic appropriate for the academic level of my subject?

If you are studying Children’s Literature or are in Elementary school, a character profile of Richard Scary’s Lowly Worm, might be a good topic. If you are in AP English Lit, you might want to take another approach. Perhaps compare and contrast Lowly to his Dickensian Counterpart.

Will I be able to find enough sources for this topic?

Choosing a unique topic is a worthy endeavor but if your passion is the Chinese Theatre of the Absurd and there is exactly one thesis paper available for perusal at a California University and your Inter Library Loan skills are unreliable, perhaps

Do you have a genuine interest in this topic?

If you selected the topic because it has limited resources or has the shortest title, it is very likely that you will lose interest. If your paper is a major grade or a semester long project, you will want something that interests you.

Introductory Paragraph Example

(Start with a broad sentence and end with the thesis)

The essence of man’s relationship to nature has been an eternal subject throughout history for the human mind to contemplate and analyze. In addition to the obvious analyses in the sciences, literature too has found this subject a constant subject of exploration. Despite the physical limitations of the stage, drama often employs the natural world as an integral part of the written and then performed story. Even in the almost complete bareness of the Elizabethan stage, William Shakespeare often touched upon the natural world in his plays. One of his plays where this quickly becomes apparent is in the classic tragedy, Macbeth. In fact, from Act I, scene i to the final Act V, scene viii, nature surrounds the title character’s march to his destiny. In Macbeth nature plays a vital role in the rise and fall of the character Macbeth.

1. In the example paragraph explain how the first sentence relates to the thesis.
2. Explain how the second sentence is more specific than the first.
3. Explain how the third sentence is more specific than the second.
4. Explain how the fourth sentence is more specific than the third.
5. Explain how the fifth sentence is more specific than the fourth.
6. Explain how the sixth sentence is more specific that the fifth.
7. Explain how the seventh sentence is more specific than the sixth.
8.-15. Choose a thesis sentence that you want to use for an essay and write the
introductory paragraph following the form given in the example.

How to write a research paper

Research Paper

A research paper is an expanded report using multiple sources to develop a topic or a thesis.


Step 1: Read and review the assignment until you understand all requirements.


Step 2: Choose a topic.

A good topic has these characteristics:

  1. Interesting: it will hold your interest and it is something you would like to learn more about
  2. Manageable: keep in mind your resource and time constraints
  3. Original: find an angle on your topic that is not the “same old” way of looking at something

Try to avoid a topic that is too broad or too narrow.


Step 3: Do some preliminary reading.

  • Go to encyclopedias to get some background information about your topic. This will allow you to further narrow or broaden your topic.  This can also help clarify your interest in a given topic.
  • Write down some questions you want to answer by the end of your research.
  • Write down some areas you are planning to research (library books, specific internet sites, Google Scholar etc.).


Step 4: Locate resources.

  • Look for a variety of sources.  Use books, magazines, newspapers, the internet, etc.
  • Evaluate the sources.  Are they up-to-date and from reliable authors?  Skim the table of contents or subheadings to ensure it will be helpful to you.
  • Write down the works cited page information for each source on a note card.  This will ensure that you have the correct information and will save you a lot of trouble later on.


Step 5: Read and take notes on resources.

  • Label your note cards differently for each source.
  • Include the page number of the source (This will ensure you have the proper citation information).
  • Paraphrase information using your own shorthand as long as you will remember what you meant later on.
  • Use quotation marks when you copy directly from the source.


Step 6: Write an original thesis statement.


Step 7: Begin drafting.


Step 8: Revise.