While you are studying [and] observing . . . do not remain content with the
surface of things. Do not become a mere recorder of facts, but try to penetrate
the mystery of their origin. –Ivan Pavlov
Some things to consider when choosing a topic
for your senior research paper (and project)
Pick something that genuinely interests you.
o You are going to spend many hours working on this project. Choose a topic that will hold your
o This is a chance to really study something that may not even relate to your normal classes and
still get credit for doing it.
Pick something you can learn more about through research.
o Plan to learn something as you work on your paper.
o Writing a research paper is more than writing down facts, ideas, or opinions of others.
o Writing a research paper means digging deeper into a topic to discover the causes, relationships,
and patterns behind or within events, issues, history, nature, etc.
Do some general reading on the topic before you choose.
o Read an encyclopedia article on this topic. Is it really something that interests you?
o A research paper deals with a limited topic and is based primarily on information from print
sources, such as books, newspapers, and magazines. Some nonprint sources are also used, such
as documentaries and personal interviews with experts.
Do an informal check to see if there are enough articles from high quality sources
Not everything you find online is high quality, reliable information. What’s available on
the library’s databases? From books? From other sources?
Some topics are just trouble.
o You need to choose a topic that requires you to think.
You may be interested in becoming a chef, a mechanic, a photographer, or something
else, but “How to become a ______” is not a good idea for a research paper. It usually
turns into a list of steps, not thought-provoking research.
Think instead of things that relate to your topic but that begin with words such as Why?
What effect does _____ have on (this topic)? or What causes_____?
In the same way, writing a biography of a person is not a good research idea.
Researching what childhood experiences had an influence on J.R.R. Tolkien’s writing, or
what events led to a major scientific discovery could be a idea, however.
o Personal topics are often difficult research topics.
Personal experiences don’t substitute for factual information.
Sometimes our personal feelings are so strong we have trouble even acknowledging the
other side of the argument, and we need to for a research paper.