Sharing Experience: Finding Good Topics for a Research Paper

When faced with the task of writing a research paper, remember to tap a too-often unrecognized and unused resource: the people around you.

Chances are every single one of your friends and family members who are or ever have been students have had to write at least one research paper at some point. Beyond that, even if they haven’t, they still have opinions and are available as soundboards for feedback. There are myriad ways to get the people around you involved in a conversation that will lead to a killer research paper topic.

Brainstorm with your friends

Of course the most obvious option is to simply ask a trusted friend or family member to brainstorm with you. Without an external source of feedback, it’s too easy to get stuck in an infinite thought loop in your own mind. Even just having someone listen to your ideas and give initial thoughts is enormously valuable information. After all, the success of the paper you will eventually write will be entirely determined by someone else’s opinion on it (your instructor’s).

Having someone hear you out can help you gauge which topics are most engaging to someone else and which ones are messy, confusing, or just downright not interesting.

Initiate a debate

The most interesting and fun topics to write and read about are ones on which many or most people have strong opinions. People disagree and debate all day every day in normal conversation. Pay attention to the conversations around you to pinpoint what sort of topics spark the most lively conversations.

In the same vein, ask a few friends to join you for a conversation and initiate a debate. This way you will not only get many ideas for topics, but also inevitably elicit statements and stances to support multiple views on that topic.

Zero in on a professional in your life

Whether you get to select your own research topic or if you’re given a general subject, most likely there is at least one person you know who works professionally in a field related to what you are to write about. Spend some time with any such working professional you know. Ask them about their job, their day-to-day life, the pros and cons of working in his or her given field. You will have no trouble finding someone willing to discuss at length his or her professional occupation--everyone loves to talk about himself.