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Select Your Topic

Instructors may sometimes assign you a specific topic (or choice of topics) for your research paper, but oftentimes they expect you to choose your own topic. For some students, selecting a topic is the most difficult part of doing research.

What is a “good” topic? Generally, it must be:

• Appropriate: It must fit or meet the criteria for the assignment.


Assignment: Discuss effects of violence on society

Appropriate Topic: Television cartoons and preschool children

Not Appropriate: Characteristics of popular TV cartoons

• Interesting: Select a topic that you are interested in and that you will enjoy researching.

• Manageable: A manageable topic has enough information available. This may mean refining your topic so that it is neither too broad nor too narrow.


Too much information available on the topic: Abortion

Too little information available on the topic: Abortion in the city of La Puente in 1995-1998 among high school girls.

Ask Yourself:

After reading the above definition, do I think I have a good topic?

Then Do This:

If yes, double check with the reference librarian.

If no, ASK A REFERENCE LIBRARIAN for help. Some sources for ideas:

• Your textbook or assigned readings

• A general encyclopedia

• “Research Topics,” “Subject Guides,” or “Controversial Topics” in the Rio Hondo College Library Web site:

REF LB1047.3.L35 1991
10,000 Ideas for Term Papers, Projects and Reports

• REF LB2369.M463 1987
Sourcebook for English Papers : 1001 Ideas for Term Papers, Projects, Reports, and Speeches

• HM45.A7
1000 Ideas for Term Papers in Sociology

• H62.F35
1000 Ideas for Term Papers in Social Science

Ask Yourself:

Is my topic too broad or too narrow?

Then Do This:

Narrow your topic by phrasing it as a sentence or a question.


Too Broad: Bilingual education

Better Topic: Bilingual education in the elementary schools hampers students’ learning.

Too Broad: Gambling

Better Topic: Does online gambling lead to an increase in crime?

• Very little information may be available on topics that are too narrow.

• Take a step back and expand the picture.


Too Narrow: Women’s health concerns in New Delhi

Better Topic: Women’s health–a world perspective

Remember to consult with the Reference Librarian on whether there is enough information on your topic!

Step 3
Identify Keywords and Concepts of Your Topic  



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