Prewriting Strategies and Research Paper Prewriting: How to Choose a Topic of Research

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An Explosive Beginning for Research Paper Prewriting

I taught students how to write a thesis statement and expected great things in their essays. Although their thesis statements reflected sound knowledge on how to write one, their topics were incredibly boring. After reading the 245th consecutive essay on Disneyland, the school cafeteria, and Kobe Bryant, I screamed. Bob from next door ran into my room and handed me some prewriting strategies and Research Paper prewriting lesson plans on how to choose a topic for a research paper.

To celebrate I stuffed all the essays in a trash can, soaked them in Kerosene, and lit them. Because the explosion destroyed the school, I was fired and never got to teach my students how to choose a topic for a research paper.

But you can.

Know the Difference Between Subject and a Topic

The first step in choosing an essay topic involves differentiating between a subject and a topic and explaining what a sub topic is. The following notes will help:

  • A subject is the area of knowledge where you will search for a topic. The following would be subjects:
    • The History of the NBA
    • The 2008-09 NBA Season
    • The Boston Celtics
  • A topic is a category within a subject. The following are potential topics based on the above subjects:
    • NBA Integration in the 1950s
    • The Cleveland Cavalier’s Chances of Winning the 2008-09 NBA Championship
    • Why Rajon Rondo’s Improvement Has Made Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce Better Players
  • Each topic can be broken down further into subtopics: You may want to use the following subtopics for the above example topics:
    • Wilt Chamberlain’s Influence on League Wide Integration
    • Lebron James' Role in Cleveland’s Basketball Resurgence
    • Experience as the Biggest Factor in Rajon Rondo’s Improvement.

The same rules apply for how to choose a topic of research. The Library of Congress Subject Headings may help writers find subjects and related topics. Ask a librarian for assistance.

How to Choose a Good Topic

Students panic when choosing an essay topic. Most don’t know how. When doing research, even fewer know how to choose a topic of research. These suggestions should help:

  • A good topic fits within the boundaries of the subject:

    • Subject: The Dominican Republic
    • Good Topic: Kite Surfing in Cabarete, the Dominican Republic
    • Bad Topic: Caribbean cruises
  • A good topic is neither too general nor too specific (what is too general and too specific relies heavily on the length of the writing assignment):

    • Too General: History of the Dominican Republic

    • Too Specific: History of Cabarete’s snorkeling industry

    • Just Right: How Tourism has Helped Cabarete Grow Over the Past 10-years

  • A good topic can be handled with the research tools available. If the research requires access to online databases, such as Ebsco, yet the school library is not equipped with Internet or does not subscribe to Ebsco, then the research will be poorly concluded.

  • A good topic can be handled in the amount of time available. Use the following as a guideline:

    • It takes approximately two hours to write one page.
    • One should spend approximately twice the amount of time writing a paper as you do researching it.
    • Planning is the key to time management. A few minutes of planning saves hours of work.


  • Teaching experience.

This post is part of the series: Choosing a Writing Topic

Most student essays and research papers bore the teacher to tears, which makes sense because doing the research and writing the paper bores the student to tears. Teaching students how to choose an essay topic or a research topic makes the experience better for all.

  1. How to Choose a Topic for a Research Paper?
  2. Lesson Plan: How to Choose the Topic of a Research Paper
  3. Tips on Writing a Research Paper: How to Identify a Topic Question for Essays and Research Papers
  4. A Lesson Plan: Career Research Project & Essay