Find Your Inspiration or How to Come Up with a Unique Topic for Your Research

Jun 24, 2013
After years of writing book reports and personal essays, high school students are introduced to the dreaded research paper, often in their junior and senior years. Why then? Because this type of writing is crucial for students who plan to go to college and they don't teach it there. Professors expect their new students to understand the research writing process from beginning to end. They may provide guidance and offer advice, but a student who has never written a research paper will behind his classmates.

Where to begin?

One of the reason reach paper writing is so intimidating is that there are countless topics to choose from. Most are perfectly acceptable, but that doesn't mean they'll make interesting or informative reports. It is for this reason that the first step of actually selecting a topic is often the most challenging. In this article we will discuss a few simple tips on how to make it easier.

Your first research paper

The average high school student is introduced to this new type of writing during their junior year. The aptly named junior research paper is different from any paper they will have penned in the past. For one thing, it takes much longer to compose because many hours of research are required. The required length of 13-15 pages is also about three times as long as the essays most students completed heretofore. And instead of a week to work on them, most teachers give their students at least a month to turn them in. As a result, the paper makes up a much larger portion of their final grade, often between 25 and 40 percent.
The good news about the junior paper is that there are often set topics or topic lists from which students can choose. So, instead of having to come up with their own unique topic, they can simply select one that has already been deemed acceptable by their instructor. By cutting out that crucial, often frustrating first step, students can hit the ground running and begin working on their papers with confidence.

Your second one

For their senior research paper, high school students are given a more challenging assignment. After having been given topics from which to choose the prior year, they are now expected to select a topic on their own. More often than not, the topic must be relevant to some aspect of the course. That is where most second-time researchers start.
Methods for selecting a topic

Get a head start

Do not procrastinate! You've heard that countless times during your academic career. And yes, sometimes you can get away with waiting till the last minute...but not on a research paper. Furthermore, you will find it far less stressful if you start thinking about possible topics as soon as the paper is assigned. Most students who start early find that ideas come to them throughout the day, since the paper is a priority for them.


Though it is more commonly used at later stages of the writing process, brainstorming also works for students who are having trouble deciding on a topic. The technique involves timed writing sessions during which you can jot down anything that comes to mind, often in lists or in bulleted form. When the time elapses, you can look over your list to see if you stumbled onto anything helpful or interesting. It is also important to look for patterns, or things that appeared more frequently. This may be a sign that something is on your mind and that that topic is worth pursuing.

Select a topic that interests you

This is probably the most obvious advice we can give you. Unfortunately, many new researchers ignore it and pick a topic that is either challenging or controversial. But a challenge might not be enough to push your through weeks of research and writing. Therefore, it is best to select a topic that you are curious about that you can cover in the allotted timeframe.

Don't write what you know

If you've ever taken a creative writing course, the dictum to always "write what you know" is probably quite familiar to you. But that might not be the best course of action when it comes to research papers. Why? Because a topic that you know inside and out probably won't be all that interesting to you. The work might be easy for you, but it will lack the passion that comes with genuine interest and curiosity about a compelling new topic.

Size really does matter

There's nothing wrong with tackling a challenging topic that you are genuinely interested in, but you must consider the body of research that you will have to wade through. If the topic is an enormous one, you may not know where to start. Large topics require copious research to discover the different opinions and points of view of experts in the field. This can be overwhelming, even for an experienced researcher.
On the flipside, you do not want to select a topic on which there is a dearth of research and information. These narrow topics simply may not provide you with 15 or more pages of citations, examples, and expert opinions. Therefore, we strongly suggest that you resist the temptation to be different by trudging into terra incognita.


Now that we have reviewed a few helpful hints on how to come up with an interesting topic, let us take a look at a few examples of winning topics and the questions that researchers have asked and answered in the past. You will notice that all of the following topics are quite simple and straightforward and are not too broad or too narrow.


Should certain ads be banned for the health and safety of the public-hard alcohol, prescription drugs, cigarettes, etc? Or would that infringe upon the First Amendment rights of advertisers?

Cell Phones

How have they changed the way we communicate and behave towards one another?

Fast Food

Are fast food restaurants to blame for the obesity epidemic in America? Where does individual responsibility come into play and when is it appropriate to impute blame?

Parental culpability

Should parents be held legally or even morally responsible when their underage children commit serious crimes? If warning signs were ignored, is not the guardian at least partly to blame?
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By Kevin Demlon. Kevin writes helpful articles to share his knowledge with students in need. He enjoys writing articles on new subjects and does his best to create each post showing writing tips in a clear way.
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