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Choosing a topic for a research writing assignment is a very important decision. The choice of subject for your reports or term papers can have an effect on your final grade and how hard you will have to work to complete the writing assignment.


Topic Choice and Grades
  • Think about these writing assignments! They have been around for years and unless you have a new teacher, your teacher has probably been grading these writing assignments for years. Although it may not be fair, teachers have a tendency to give higher grades to students who pick topics that are interesting to them or are unique in their approach or presentation.
    • Rule One: Pick topics for your writing assignments that not only interest you but also your teacher.
Topic Choice: Problem One
  • You should never pick a topic for a research assignment while sitting in your classroom. How can you possibly know what and if resources exist on the topic you pick sitting in a classroom? Unless, you are a librarian or you have spent hours perusing ALL the books on the shelves in your local library there is no way that you know how easy or hard it will be to find information on a your topic.
  • If a teacher expects you to pick a topic in the classroom, off the top-of-your-head or from a list of topics on the same day the assignment is given, you could argue that it is their responsibility to make sure there is enough information on the topic you choose.
  • If a teacher lets you leave the room before picking the topic, then it is your responsibility to make sure enough information is available on the topic YOU pick.
  • Once your teacher knows your topic they can monitor your work effort simply based on the fact that you have a topic. Say you turn-in your topic choice, wait until the day before the first due date to look for information, and then have difficulty finding relevant information. In this case, you are probably in trouble... asking to change a topic you chose speaks volumes about your work ethic and will undoubtedly have an negative effect on your grade. What are you going to do if your teacher does not let you change your topic and you still cannot find enough "good" information to complete the writing assignment?
  • With the vast amount of information made available to you by today's technology there is no excuse for not exploring what kind and amount of information exists on your topic before telling your teacher your topic.
    • Rule Two: Select only "Supported Topics".
    • In other words, tell your teacher your selected writing assignment topic only after you have first located one or two relevant and "Good" resources.
Topic Choice: Another Problem
  • Even when you select supported topics you can run into problems. You could select a topic that has too much information to digest in a reasonable/practical amount of time or reading.
  • When you become overwhelmed by the amount of information available on a selected topic it might be a good idea to narrow the topic or identify a focus topic. Presenting a well thought out focus topic to your teacher indicates effort on your part. It is rare that such topic change requests are rejected by teachers.
  • It is fairly simple to identify "Supported" Focus Topics if entire books exist on the broad topic. The "Table of Contents" or "Indexes" of books on broad topics provide lists of author focus topics. The next section of this webpage provides you with some simple ways of developing a focus or narrowing a topic using the "Table of Contents" or "Indexes" in a book on the broad topic.
    • Rule Three: Use a "Table of Contents" or "Index" in a book on your broad topic to identify related narrow or focus topics.

How to Focus/Narrow a Broad Topic: Using the "Table of Contents"
  • Locate a book on your broad topic choice.
  • Read/Browse the titles of each of the chapters. (If Chapter Titles do not provide a good indication of the content of the chapter, return the book and select another one.)
  • Select the topic of a chapter that you understand and also find interesting.
  • The advantage of identifying a focus topic this way is that you can easily (in less than a minute or two) identify a narrow topic while also identifying your first "good" resource.
    • Can you identify a good focus topic relating to World War II using the following sample "Table of Contents" page?

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    • How difficult was this to do?
    • How long did this take you to do?
    • How many pages of information do you now have on your topic?

How to Focus/Narrow a Broad Topic: Using the "Index"
  • Locate a book on your broad topic choice.
  • Read/Browse the subjects in the index.
  • Locate subjects in the index that have a consecutive group of pages.
    • Ignore subjects with only single page numbers
      • Example: Frogs 23, 45, 67
        • Why is this potential focus topic probably not a good one?
    • Look for subjects with more than one consecutive inside pages.
      • Example 1: Lizards 45-46
        • Why is this potential focus topic probably not a good one?
      • Example 2: Amphibians 75-82
        • Why is this potential topic better?
    • Can you identify a good focus relating to Astronomy using the following sample "Index" page?
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      • How difficult was this to do?
      • How long did this take you to do?
      • How many pages of information do you now have on your topic?

What did you learn?
  • Who should the research topics that you choose be interesting to?
  • What is a "Supported Topic"?
  • What are the two parts of a book that help you narrow a topic or develop a focus?



This webpage was created on: 14 June 2009
This webpage was last updated on: 11 July 2009
This webpage was created by: CMS Librarian
Contributions to http://cmsmediaspot.wiki.hempfieldsd.org/ are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 3.0 License. Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 3.0 License