SELECTING A TOPIC
Unless specific topics have been assigned by the instructor, browsing, happenstance, and personal reflection may be good ways to come up with topic for a research paper. Perhaps there are some interesting local issues you already have an interest in, or that your friends, family, or neighbors have brought attention to. An issue may catch your attention on a radio or TV talk show, blog, or news story.
While you are exploring possible topics to write about or give a speech on, you will be familiarizing yourself with a subject area and various issues. Familiarity with an issue will give you confidence and a comfort level to use that topic for your research assignment. Familiarity entails obtaining background and overviews of a topic, which also will help you in deciding how to focus and narrow your topic to a manageable aspect of a broader subject area.
More formally, we can delineate a variety of resources that one can browse through to get topic ideas. Often a resource (a site or database) can function in a dual way of offering topic ideas while at the same time providing background information. We can group these resources by free websites (both national and local) and library subscription databases. Websites and databases are briefly described here; these resources are listed in detail further below.
Websites: Web directories; search engines; reference sites; news sites; open access journals; blogs; non-profit and governmental sites (think tanks, advocacy groups, public policy research organizations).
Proprietary databases: College and public libraries offer students or registered patrons free access to a variety of subscription databases for reference information, topic guides, periodical articles (journals, magazines, newspapers), as well as print and electronic books.
National versus local resources: Local publications and websites are often the most preferable resources for information on local issues, because of the variety of topics and in-depth treatment of local topics that may not be found in national resources. National resources are useful because of the broad overview and background information they provide of an important topic, helping establish a national and global perspective or context from which to pursue a local aspect of that topic. A national story about an issue may or may not include mention or coverage of your state or city, but it can nevertheless be a starting point for you to explore the local angle to the issue.
Using the internal search engine of a national site by entering “Colorado” may yield articles and documents within that site on Colorado issues that may not be apparent or visible by just a cursory look at the site. If the site does not have an internal search engine, or not a very good one, you can use the Google advance search feature of looking for Colorado within a site (actually, many sites’ internal search engines use this Google advanced tool on their site). Simply do a Google search by combining the domain (URL) of the site with any keyword, such as “Colorado.” For example, site:www.CNN.com Colorado.
See Researching Local Issues on this site for a detailed guide to resources and search strategies.