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Choosing Your Topic: Your Topic

What is a good topic?

A good topic is a manageable topic that you can thoughtfully and thoroughly address within the length of your assignment.

A manageable topic generally consists of 2 to 3 concepts.*

Characteristics of a Good Topic.

Not too broad or narrow:

  • Usually includes 2 to 3 concepts.*
  • Produces a manageable amount of results that are easy to organize into a coherent paper.

Research exists on it:

  • Others have investigated the topic before.
  • Enough time has elapsed for research to be published on it.
  • It's something that interests scholarly researchers.

Matches scope and requirements of your assignment:

  • Determine how many resources are necessary.
  • Make sure your topic addresses the areas outlined in your assignment.
*See the box below regarding dissertation topics.

What if you can't find anything?

Search Other Databases

Each database has a unique collection. Try several databases to be sure you are finding all of the available articles on your topic.

Refine Your Keywords

Selecting the right keywords is the most difficult aspect of a search. Try to brainstorm all the keywords an author may have used.

See the Keyword Searching guide for help.

Expand Your Topic

Remove a concept or broaden a concept in your current search. Look at another aspect of the topic.

What if you find too much information?

Use Limits

Add relevant limits to your search. It's often a good idea to include date limits or limit to peer-reviewed articles.

Create a More Focused Topic

Add a concept or two to your search to create a more specific topic. For example, specify a population, treatment, region, etc.

Discussion & Assignment Topics

If your assignment provides a general idea to research, you will need to pick the specific issue before you search.

Use your existing knowledge and readings to develop your topic.

Search for specific concepts.

  • 'current educational issue' = bad search results
  • 'achievement gap' = good search results

Dissertation Topics

Should you find articles on your specific topic?

Dissertation research topics need to fill a gap in current research or practice. Your research question should not already have an answer in the research literature.


How should you search?

Place the concepts from your question within the context of the existing literature. Search for portions of your topic, but not all aspects at one time.

There may be research that looks at a slightly different population, or that addresses a related intervention.

Where can you get topic ideas?

Textbook and Course Readings

Your required readings should give you a broad background in what is going on in your field. Look for interesting topics you can expand for your own research.

Explore the Literature

If you have experience in your field you may be able to translate it into a research topic. Explore the literature of a topic that interests you and you may find ideas for your topic. Click the "Explore the Literature" tab above to learn more.

Current Events and Recent Issues of Journals

While an item in the news may be too recent to use as a topic, you may be able to relate it to an existing area of research. Recent issues of scholarly journals cover topics of current interest to researchers.