ENG112_Lesson1_Choosing a Topic

Lesson 1:
Choosing a Topic
Building an Interest Inventory
Additional Ways to Select a Topic
Evaluating the Quality of Your Topic
Developing a Working Knowledge of Your Topic
Narrowing the Focus
Developing the Initial Inquiry Question
Building an Interest Inventory
 An Interest Inventory is a collection of topics for
which you have varying degrees of interest. To
create an interest inventory:
Step 1: Start with a blank journal page or word document divided into columns.
Step 2: Review a few items in each column that interest you the most.
Title each column with one of the following (choose at least three to work
with): places, trends, things, technologies, people, controversies, history,
jobs, habits, and hobbies.
Write whatever comes to mind under each of your headings.
Do any of the listed ideas overlap?
Circle the one item that interests you more than all the others.
Step 3: Generate a list of questions for the circled item from step 2—as many as you can—
that you can use to explore the subject.
Additional Ways to Select a Topic
 To make your research paper interesting, you have
to be interested in your research topic. If you’ve
created an Interest Inventory and are still having
trouble coming up with a topic that interests you,
consider the following:
Surf the Internet
 Search an index
 Browse an encyclopedia
 Consider essays you’ve already written
 Consider current events
Surf the Net
 Sample Research Sites
World Wide Web Virtual Library: http://vlib.org/
 Google Scholar: http://scholar.google.com/
 Fields of Knowledge:
 Academic Index: http://www.academicindex.net/
 Librarian’s Index: http://lii.org/
 The Internet Public Library: http://www.ipl.org/
Browsing Encyclopedias
 Any encyclopedia can be a great starting point for
topic ideas.
 Did you hear something in class that you disagree
Check it in an encyclopedia. That may be the start of a
great research topic.
 Most encyclopedias enable browsing by topic.
 Start with a broad subject, read the entry, and look for an
interesting angle.
 Can’t find it? Keep checking! You may have to browse
multiple topics to find something that sparks your interest.
Exploring a Topic that
You’ve Already Written About
 Already Familiar with a Topic?
 Perhaps you wrote a paper for another class.
 Maybe someone in your class wrote a paper about
something that you are interested in.
 Is there an essay you really liked with a topic you
promised yourself to research further? Why did the
topic interest you?
 If you find area topic you are already are
knowledgeable with or interested in, your
research will go much faster and smoother.
Current Events
 Are you passionate about a topic or current
 Current hot topics might include:
How has the Patriot Act affected my civil liberties?
Are politics preventing real solutions to global warming?
Cell Phones
Should talking on a cell phone while driving (TWD) be a punishable crime
like driving under the influence (DUI)?
What are the dangers of storing personal information on a cell phone?
Crime and punishment
Is racial or ethnic profiling necessary or fair?
Is white collar crime becoming an acceptable way to earn a living?
Current Events (continued)
 Whatever happened to recess?
 Is fast food in the cafeteria putting kids on the fast track
to obesity?
 Are we teaching content or how to test-taking skills?
Use of instant replay in sports
 Why use the refs when replay does it all?
 Do replays add excitement or take it away?
Evaluating the Quality of Your Topic
 Once the potential topics list is narrowed, determine the
research question and evaluate its quality.
 A question is considered “researchable” if it meets the
following criteria:
It is not too big or too small.
The question focuses on some aspect of the topic about which
something has been said.
It interests the researcher.
It potentially matters. The question has something to do with what
we care about or what might be important to other people.
It implies an approach, or various means of answering the question.
It raises more questions… the answer might not be simple.
Developing a Working Knowledge of Your Topic
 Reading is key for developing a working knowledge
of your topic. Suggestions for reading include:
Read for Research
Read articles with the express purpose of acquiring information
Read Like an Outsider
Develop a Working Knowledge before diving in to scholarly works
filled with jargon and specialized conventions
Thinking about How You Read
 Do you really need to spend time thinking about how you
The answer is yes! The theory is that if you spend time becoming
aware of how you do things, they become habits. You can exercise
more control over habits, which leads to more effective researching.
 College research usually requires students to read about
topics they’re not completely familiar with or interested in.
This forces the reader to struggle to understand the reading.
 Keep in mind, the purpose of any research paper is not to
report, but to explore, argue, or analyze.
Tips for Reading Like an Outsider
 To be a successful at reading like an outsider:
Before tackling more scholarly readings, develop a working
knowledge of your topic.
While reading, keep your purpose in mind.
It’s only boring because you haven’t cracked the code. When you are no
longer reading like an outsider, the reading will become more interesting.
In scholarly writing, learn the organizing principles of the article.
What do you want from the reading?
Acknowledge that you may find the reading boring.
Research suggests subject knowledge impacts comprehension and
Each section contains a particular type of information, which may or may
not be relevant.
Read with a pen in your hand.
Narrowing the Focus
Writing a research paper requires you to have a curiosity
about a topic and the willingness to search for answers.
Becoming a successful researcher and writer is not always
Discovering your subject is the first step to getting started,
but it can be a tricky one. Most topics are so broad that
there is no way to write about them. Narrowing down the
topic into a focusing question is a vital part of getting
started. With this, you now have a purpose for researching.
Developing and Organizing Your Ideas
To ensure your topic is not too general, use these
 Examine one significant issue, not a broad subject.
 Address a knowledgeable reader and carry that
reader to another plateau of knowledge.
 Have a serious purpose that demands analysis of the
issues, argues from a position, and explains complex
 Meet the expectations of the instructor and conform
to the course requirements.
Strategies for Narrowing the Focus
 To narrow the focus:
 Go from general to specific
 Limit the time frame
 Anchor the subject to a specific place
 Call out a specific person from a group
 Find a story within a story
Develop Your Initial Inquiry Question
 When you’ve completed your list of questions, ask
yourself, “Which questions on the list am I most
interested in, and which could be the focus of my
Remember, you’re not committing yourself to a topic yet!
 By connecting your topic to something else, you have
successfully narrowed your focus.