Helping Students Choose From Topics for a Research Paper in Biology

Helping Students Choose From Topics for a Research Paper in Biology
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Show and Tell

The comment is often made with frustration in the teacher’s room or during conferences that a student’s writing is not focused; they are all

over the place. Often, this is simply because the student has not had the opportunity to have anyone explain to them how to take a broad topic and focus it into something manageable and interesting.

Using the metaphor of focusing a camera, model for students how to take a subject, find a topic within that subject, and finally find a subtopic within the topic to research. Using this metaphor, students easily grasp the concept of taking a broad subject and honing it down to a thoughtful, precise and workable subtopic.

Biology research paper topics can be daunting. There are hundreds or possibly thousands of subjects to write about such as genetics, cancer and microbiology. Within these subjects are various topics. For instance, genetic coding, cancerous tumors or antibiotics might be subtopics for these subjects.

Focus in a tiny bit more and the student will discover subtopics leading to a research paper. For instance, biology research paper topics for these three models might be:

  • Genetic Coding in Water Rats Found in Boston Harbor
  • Desmoids Tumors in Young Women of Child-bearing Age
  • Antibiotic Resistance: Microbiological Warfare Hits the Wall.

If we expect our students to master the art of writing research papers in college or university classrooms, teaching them to look at the development of a subject as being similar to focusing a camera lens from macro to micro exposure is an excellent tool. While biology research topics can still be assigned, demonstrating how these topics were created enables the student to see the process they will be expected to follow in the future.

Biology Research Paper Topics

Begin modeling this technique by mind-mapping a subject into topics and then subtopics. Make three columns on the board. In the first column, list the subjects students are expected to write about; next, ask the students to create a list for topics and then a list for subtopics. Following this process, the preceding list of subjects, topics and subtopics might be created. From these lists, students should be able to develop possible biology research paper topics.


  • Animals
  • Development
  • DNA
  • Ecology
  • Immunology
  • Physiology
  • Viruses
  • Plant Biology
  • Diversity of Life


  • Birds and Disease
  • Symptoms of Aging
  • The Double Helix
  • Biological Pest Control
  • Inflammatory Diseases
  • Hormones in the Thyroid
  • Smallpox
  • The Leaf
  • Taxonomy: Classifying Life


  • Avian Flu: How Birds Spread Disease
  • Senile Dementia and Its Link to Inactivity in Adults
  • Fibonacci Numbers: The Math of DNA
  • Mosquito Control with Dragonflies
  • Fibromyalgia: When the Immune System Attacks Itself
  • Thyroid Disease in Middle Aged Women in America
  • Biological Weapons: Could Smallpox Be Used as a Weapon?
  • Fighting Leaf Disease in Agricultural Plants
  • The Classification of New Life Forms in the Rainforest

By the time student reach the subtopics, they should have the topic for their research paper.

Note: Some of the subtopics could be further focused such as Avian Flu: How Birds Spread Disease in Large Metropolitan Areas, or Thyroid Disease in Single Middle Aged Women in the America. A word of caution; if the lens is brought in too closely on the topic, then writing the research paper actually becomes more difficult, as there will not be enough information to work with for the paper to have any substance.

New Research

Teachers should encourage students to think critically about their research topics and guide them away from topics that have been worked to death. Just as in science fair projects there are only so many ways to build a volcano; there are just so many ways to write a research paper on the common cold.

For this reason, it is best that teachers begin initially with students by giving them the subject areas and topics for research, and then allowing them to brainstorm subtopics. Otherwise, there may be a raft of the same old research papers as the year before.

Focus on the End Result

Most students learn best when they are able to see a process demonstrated before them or have a hands-on experience that allows them to participate in the process at hand. Teaching students how to discern topics for a research paper in biology via the metaphor of a camera lens is an easy way to model the development of a topic from the subject to the subtopic. The diagram of current topics in biology above shows clearly how this can be accomplished. From macro to micro, the result should be clear and concise research papers.


  • Source: Author’s own experience