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Eastern Illinois University
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Brainstorming Research Paper Topics

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Suggestions and resources
So you've been asked to write a research paper.  What should you write about?  Even if your professor's given you a broad subject area to focus on, it can take time to come up with a workable, interesting topic. 

Think about subjects that interest you.   Since you'll be spending a lot of time exploring your topic and reading articles about it, you'll be more motivated if you choose something that's of personal interest, or if you take an angle on the topic that has some relevance for you.

Booth Library has resources to help you.

Subject encyclopedias are reference books with articles that provide background on different facets of a topic.  Booth Library has subject encyclopedias available for many different fields.  

Browse the tables of contents to get ideas for paper topics, and read through the articles to explore each issue in greater depth.  As you're reading, make note of keywords that look useful for finding relevant books and articles later on.

To find subject encyclopedias in print, search the EIU Online Catalog using the words: encyclopedia and [subject].  
For example, click these links to do searches on:  encyclopedia and global warming    and   encyclopedia and crime

For articles from online subject encyclopedias, search the Gale Virtual Reference Library or the Sage e-Knowledge Reference Collection. More subject encyclopedias and other reference resources are listed on the library's E-Reference page.
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10,000 Ideas for Term PapersIssues and Controversies on File and ProCon.org are especially useful databases for examining current events and presenting both sides of controversial issues.

CQ Researcher, a weekly newsletter, provides in-depth coverage of issues in the news today.  Ask for it at the Reference Desk (H 35 .E351) on the library's 3rd floor, near the reference lab.

Kathryn Lamm's 10,000 Ideas for Term Papers, Projects, Reports, and Speeches (NY: Macmillan USA, 1998) is kept at the reference desk and can be checked out for use within the building.

 
 
Narrowing or broadening your topic
How long will your paper be?  How many references do you need?  When considering potential topics, make sure its scope will be manageable and fit your paper's requirements.

If your topic itoo broad, you'll be overwhelmed with articles to choose from, many of which will be conflicting and/or won't be specific enough to the subject you want to investigate.
On the other hand, if your topic itoo narrow, there may not be enough material for you to use.  

To narrow down a broad topic, focus it some more by looking at a particular perspective, time period, place, population group, or more than one of these.

For example, instead of "body image," consider a more focused aspect of this topic.  
- body image and women and television
- body image and teenagers and self-esteem

To expand a narrow topic, rework your search to include broader or related concepts.

For example, instead of "genetically modified tomatoes and nutrition," consider:

- genetically modified foods and nutrition 
- genetically modified and nutrition

Please ask a librarian if you'd like more assistance!