Paper Topic Ideas

Choosing a topic

So, you've gotten an assignment that involves doing some research and writing about a particular topic but you're having a hard time getting started because you can't think of a topic?  This is a common, and frustrating, problem and we want to help!

Start from your own curiosity

The best research topics come from your interests. Choose a topic you want to know more about and then research it.  What do you love to do?  What gets you fired up?  Hobbies?  Remember, even in the best of circumstances, research can be challenging so having a topic you actually care about can help a lot!  Worried that your interests or passions aren't "academic" enough?  Talk to a librarian, we are experts at helping you find the "academic" angle on whatever your interests are.  Also, check out the "From news to research topic blog" on this guide to see some examples of how we might take a topic in the news and turn it into a paper topic.

Think about your topic in terms of your assignment

  1. Consider your assignment’s purpose. Are you supposed to take a side in an existing argument, explain a problem, propose a position, describe a project or process, or do something else?
  2. Consider your audience and their expectations. Your audience may be your instructor, or your assignment sheet may identify an audience for your work. If you don’t know what their interests are, or what types of sources they will find convincing, find out.
  3. Be clear about the types of evidence you should use. If you have to use specific types of sources, make sure that you choose a topic that is discussed in those sources. For example, if you have to use scholarly sources, make sure that you choose a topic that researchers are studying.

Talk to your instructor

The best person to tell you how well a topic could work is your instructor. They understand the point of the assignment, and they will be evaluating your final product or paper.

Need inspiration?

This page has links to some library databases and websites that are designed to let you browse through topics without knowing yet your exact focus.  We also shared links from the New York Times Learning Network to lists of prompts for different styles of writing.  Finally, we have current news feeds in a range of topic areas that might inspire you!

Prompts to Generate Ideas

First thought, “best thought” prompts

What comes to mind when you read the questions below?  Use the thoughts that come to mind when you read the prompts below as jumping off points for further exploration:

  • What inspires you?
  • What makes you happy?
  • Problems you would like to solve:
  • What are you most afraid of?
  • Things you love, or ideas you love:
  • Things you disagree with, or ideas you find problematic:
  • People, places or things you want to celebrate:
  • What tires you?
  • Something you need to know right now in your life:

Current event topics

Writing Prompts from the New York Times