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Writing a Paper: Brainstorming

Overview

Choosing a paper topic or narrowing down a topic of interest is an important part of the scholarly writing process. Many times, your instructor will assign you a topic to write about or will provide you with some topic guidelines. However, you still must ensure that your topic fulfills your assignment requirements. The resources below contain several suggestions to consider when planning, brainstorming, and developing your ideas for an assignment.

Choosing a Topic

The most important thing to consider when choosing a paper topic is your assignment guidelines.  Use these checklists to make sure you are adhering to your instructor's requirements:

Assignment checklist:

  • Double-check the syllabus or assignment document.
  • Write out all of the topics or sources that you must cover in your paper.
  • Keep that list next to you while writing.

Page length requirement checklist:

  • Double-check the assignment's word limit.
  • Keep in mind that a standard five to seven-page paper has three to four main points.
  • Does your paper require more pages? If so, assume that each main point will likely require about one page of explanation.
  • Reserve a full page for your introduction and conclusion combined.

Once you are confident that your topic meets these requirements, think about the scope of your paper. A short paper should have a topic that is very narrow in scope—a common mistake students make is to tackle too big of a topic in a brief assignment. For example, it is not a good idea to investigate a broad topic like "diabetes" in a five-page paper. Instead, you might want to narrow your focus (i.e., "etiology of diabetes in middle-aged Caucasian men with sedentary lifestyles"). If you are unsure if the scope of your topic is appropriate, it is a good idea to ask for input from your instructor.