RD/IRW 115 Information Literacy Project: Choose a Topic

Guide for students in Reading 115 or Integrated Reading and Writing (IRW) 115, who are completing an information literacy project.

Get Topic Ideas

When selecting an academic topic to explore, follow your curiosity. What do you want to learn more about? Something in the area of politics? culture? science? technology? human relationships? Here are some resources that will help you browse for a topic:

Other sources:

What is an Academic Research Question?

Your instructor may require you to start your project with a tentative academic research question.  What makes a research question academic?

  • The topic is one that has been written about in newspapers, journal articles, and/or books.
  • Scholars, scientists or other researchers or academics have studied and discussed this question.
  • The question is complex enough that it requires more than a simple answer.
  • The question is focused and narrow.

If a question is only discussed on web sites, television shows and popular magazines, it probably is not an academic question.  However, you may be able to find an academic question related to a popular topic.  Examples:

Non-academic questionHow can I become a TikTok influencer?
Academic questionCan TikTok influencers have a positive impact on mental health awareness?

Non-academic questionWhich streaming video service is best?
Academic questionHow do technology algorithms promote binge watching?

Examples of academic research questions:

  • What was the impact of the pandemic shutdown of schools on children's social skills?
  • How does the birth order of siblings affect personality?
  • Can fast fashion be made environmentally sustainable? 
  • How does social media affect the mental health of teenagers?
  • Do the dangers of high school football outweigh the benefits?
  • Is a college education worth the high cost?

Turning an Interest into a Research Question

In this video, you’ll learn how to turn something you find interesting into a researchable question for a college research project.

Narrow Your Topic to a Research Question

Almost any broad topic you find interesting will work for starting your research.  As part of the research process, you will explore this broad topic and find a focused issue within that topic that will work well for your academic research project. Examples:

Broad topic: artificial intelligence
Focused topic: How will ChatGPT and other AI writing tools affect college classes?

Broad topic: vegetarianism
Focused topic: How might plant-based diets affect the climate crisis?

Broad topic:  race and racism
Focused topic: Do race-based identity centers on college campuses promote student success?

Plan to take some time exploring your topic, and to be flexible about what your final research question will be.  You may find that you will change your focus as you learn more about your topic and find new angles that interest you.

The library database SIRS Knowledge Source provides a method of drilling down from a broad, general topic to a specific one. Scroll down to the Browse all Pro/Con issues section to see the general subject areas and then click on one to view the more specific topics associated with it.

Sometimes mapping out the ideas and key concepts within your topic can help you narrow to a focused research question. This video will show you how to map your way to a focused question. You can also click here to see an example of a concept map done on a computer.