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Choose Your Own Topic


Step 1: Explore topics

Complete the Exploring Topics Tutorial

Access at least one of these resources to get ideas for your topic:

  • CQ Researcher
    Use to explore current and controversial topics and get in-depth, high-quality articles. Use this activity to
  • Times Topics
    Use to find New York Times coverage by topic. Each one, from Facebook to global warming, includes breaking news, archival content, and tons of multimedia.
  • Open Democracy
    Use to find news analysis and debates related to human rights and democracy worldwide. 
  • ProCon.org
    Use to find contemporary controversial issues in a pro-con format.

Step 2: Select and narrow a topic

Select one of these two activities:

Step 3: Confirm your topic is researchable

Too much information? Make your results more manageable. Less, but more relevant, information is key. Consider these options when narrowing the scope of your paper:
  • Theoretical approach: Limit your topic to a particular approach to the issue. For example, if your topic concerns cloning, examine the theories surrounding of the high rate of failures in animal cloning.
  • Aspect or sub-area: Consider only one piece of the subject. For example, if your topic is human cloning, investigate government regulation of cloning.
  • Time: Limit the time span you examine. For example, on a topic in genetics, contrast public attitudes in the 1950s versus the 1990s.
  • Population group: Limit by age, sex, race, occupation, species or ethnic group. For example, on a topic in genetics, examine specific traits as they affect women over 40 years of age.
  • Geographical location: A geographic analysis can provide a useful means to examine an issue. For example, if your topic concerns cloning, investigate cloning practices in Europe or the Middle East.
Not finding enough information? Think of related ideas, or read some additional background information first. You may not be finding enough information for several reasons, including:
  • Your topic is too specific. Generalize what you are looking for. For example, if your topic is genetic diversity for a specific ethnic group in Ghana, Africa, broaden your topic by generalizing to all ethnic groups in Ghana or in West Africa.
  • Your topic is too new for anything substantive to have been written. If you're researching a recently breaking news event, you are likely to only find information about it in the news media. Be sure to search databases that contain articles from newspapers. If you are not finding enough in the news media, consider changing your topic to one that has been covered more extensively.
  • You have not checked enough databases. Use the subject list of databases to find other databases which might cover the topic from a different perspective.
  • You are using less common words or too much jargon to describe your topic. Use a thesaurus to find other terms to represent your topic. When reading background information, note how your topic is expressed in these materials. When you find citations in an article database, see how the topic is described by experts in the field.
    (adapted from MIT Libraries)

Step 4: Select and evaluate websites 

These tutorials will help you identify a set of criteria for assessing a web source’s credibility.

Step 5: Continue locating information

Select at least two of these resources to locate more information for your topic: 

Step 6: Use specialized databases and locate articles when you have a citation

Step 7: Cite your sources

Citation Guide

Last modified: December 20, 2013