Paper Topic Ideas

2019 Novel Coronavirus

by Rachel Bridgewater on 2020-02-04T11:03:00-08:00 | Comments

We've been getting a lot of questions from students interested in writing about COVID-19, the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, formerly known as the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (aka the Wuhan coronavirus) for their research papers so I'm putting together some quick resources and ideas to help!


Researching Rapidly Developing News

News stories that are currently unfolding present some challenges to academic researchers.  Because the story is emerging, the main sources of information are going to be news stories and, in this case, documents released by public health organizations and governments.  Two forms of information that academic usually rely on -- magazines and books that provide analysis and context and scholarly, peer-reviewed articles -- won't have had time to come into existence.  This doesn't mean you should give up on the topic!  You might look for magazines, books, and peer-reviewed articles about other disease outbreaks and compare what we currently know about the COVID-19 with those.  You might look up scientific articles about coronaviruses, or about how the Chinese government handles public health information, for instance. 

Several scientific publishers have put together collections of articles that are related to the coronavirus in some way: has a preprint that's available open access on the novel coronavirus.

National Library of Medicine's general info on pandemic influenzas could provide some good info about pandemics.

Use trusted news sources

Whenever there is a rapidly developing news story, especially one that might be causing some fear and panic, there is a big opportunity for misinformation to spread both intentionally and unintentionally.  While it's always important to think about the quality of your sources, it becomes especially important in these situations.  Here are a handful of sources that PCC librarians recommend:

New York Times (website, some articles/features paywalled,  library access through US Major Dailies, some interactive content unavailable)
Oregon information: Oregon Health Authority

Topic ideas

Here's a quick brainstorm of some topic ideas that are related to this disease outbreak to get you thinking:
  • What are effective ways of stopping the spread of disease?  Does quarantine work? 
  • How has globalization put us at risk for pandemic?
  • Disease outbreaks and xenophobia (you could look at previous outbreaks that originated outside of the US such as SARS, ebola)
  • Public health communication -- how can public health organizations effectively communicate about disease? 
  • Panic and disease outbreaks
  • Social media and disease outbreaks
  • Chinese government reaction to disease outbreaks (you could look at SARS too), possibly compared with the US?
  • How will global warming affect the frequency and intensity of disease outbreak?
  •  The effect of disease outbreaks on the economy
  • Disease spillover from wildlife and wildlife trade bans
  • vaccine development -- how does it work?  what are the politics and economics of what vaccines get developed and who gets them?
  • portrayals of pandemics/epidemics in art/literature/movies
This is just an off-the-top of my head list to give you a sense of how you can take a topic in the news and use it as a spring board into a deeper topic.


If you're starting any kind of search on the Coronavirus, the disease has been referred to by several names, so it's worth trying several different keyword searches to find everything on the subject:

  • Novel coronavirus
  • COVID-19 
  • Wuhan coronavirus
  • SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes the Novel Coronavirus disease)
  • 2019-N-COV (scientific abbreviation for 2019 Novel Coronavirus)

If you're searching for scholarly articles, the terms COVID-19, 2019-N-COV, and SARS-CoV-2 will be most useful. If you're searching for news sources novel coronavirus and COVID-19 will likely be most useful.

Excellent guides from other libraries


Map of Novel Coronavirus from Johns Hopkins

Interactive coronavirus map from Johns Hopkins


Some interesting articles shared by the PCC community:

Benjakob, O. (2020, February 9). On Wikipedia, a fight is raging over coronavirus disinformation. Retrieved February 11, 2020, from website:

Gostin, L. (2020, February 3). What Questions Should Global Health Policy Makers Be Asking About The Novel Coronavirus? Retrieved from

Leung, G. (2020, February 10). Opinion | The Urgent Questions Scientists Are Asking About Coronavirus. The New York Times. Retrieved from

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