This page covers what makes a good topic for your paper, as well as different tools that list topics and collect valuable sources on those topics:
You can click the links to immediately access these sources. Read below for more information on how to use each one.
A good topic has these characteristics:
It has a built-in question (something you can debate)
It is focused such that you can write about it in just a few pages
It has been written about by other people
It interests you
It is one you can understand
1. The purpose of a college paper, generally, is to make a statement or an argument and support it with facts. In this sense "obesity" is a bad topic because there is no claim (and it's is not focused). A better topic would be along the lines of "Do current nutritional labeling practices encourage the obesity epidemic?" This is something you can answer in 3-5 pages and is focused. A good topic is often a question that can be answered.
2. Your topic has to be small enough that you can write about it in relatively few pages. Art, for example, is too broad of a topic. Many, many thick books have been written about art. Instead, a specific artist or style of art would be a better subject for a paper. We'll talk more about narrowing your topic down later.
3. Your topic should also be one that other people have written about. Generally speaking, your professors don’t want just your opinion. They want you to support your argument with the ideas and facts of others. Your professor may even require that you use a certain kind of source, such as scholarly articles. If so, it is important that your topic has been written about in the required types of sources. As an example, Pebble Mine is a topic that has been about widely, but I have found few, if any, scholarly articles on the topic (although there are articles on aspects of it, such as the effects of copper on fish).
4. A good topic will keep your interest for the days or weeks you spend working with it.
5. Finally, you should pick a topic that you can understand. Do not underestimate the importance of really understanding the sources you read. If you simply quote random sentences to support your arguments, your professors will catch you.
ProCon.org is a free website that lists controversial subjects. For each subject it has statistics, arguments, and references. This is a great place to pick a topic and to learn some basics about that topic.
Opposing Viewpoints is a database with a list of controversial subjects; for each subject there is a single page that collects magazine articles, newspaper articles, journal articles, opinion pieces, and so on. It's a great tool for finding a topic and learning about it.
Access Opposing Viewpoints with the link below. Instructions on using Opposing Viewpoints are below the link.
Within Opposing Viewpoints you can access the list of topics by clicking "Browse Issues":
Click on any issue you're interested in:
Each issue has a topic page that collects all sorts of material that you can use in a paper:
CQ Researcher provides comprehensive reports on many controversial or recent topics.
You can move around the CQ Researcher website by picking a topic from a list:
Each topic link leads to a list of subtopics. Subtopic links lead to a list of reports. CQ Researcher has lots of stuff, but it is well organized!
You can also use the search box in the top right. The video tutorial below will teach you more about searching in CQ Researcher and about using its reports.
This short (2 minutes, 29 seconds) video shows how to search in CQ Researcher and how a report is structured.
Points of View Reference Center is a database covering controbersial subjects currently in the news.
Access Points of View Reference Center with the link below. Instructions on using Points of View Reference Center are at below the link.
In Points of View Reference Center you will see a page with a search bar and a list of categories of controversial subjects. Glancing at this list is often enough to pick a topic. For instance, in the screen below I see "drilling in the Arctic" as a topic:
If I want more information, I can click a topic's name.
Once I've clicked it, I get a nice overview of the subject (indicated by 1 in the screenshot below) as well as links to further sources of information (indicated by 2 in the screenshot below):
Another handy feature of Points of View Reference Center is that it will give you APA-style citations for any one of its articles. Just click the "Cite" button on the right-hand side of the screen, then copy and paste the APA citation into your paper's Works Cited page (checking it for accuracy, of course):
Newsbank is a database that collects articles from thousands of newspapers. Newsbank has several features to help you pick a topic.
Click here to enter Newsbank.
Within Newsbank, there are two handy tools for finding topics.
The Hot Topics section of Newsbank collects topics that are currently in the news. For each topic they provide a brief summary, possible research questions to answer in your paper, and suggested search terms. Access the Hot Topics section by entering Newsbank and clicking "Hot Topics" in the upper left:
You should now see a list of topics and associated search terms:
Another way to find topics is to use the "Find a Topic" link back at the Newsbank homepage:
The Find a Topic page lists categories of topics:
Clicking any one of these topics will display subtopics, which will lead to find relevant newspaper articles: