Choosing a Topic from a Theme

Choosing a topic can seem like a daunting task, because without a clear topic it can feel impossible to start your assignment. You’ve probably asked yourself, where and how do I get started? What’s my first step? Well, this guide is for you! In this guide, the following steps will take you through choosing a topic when you’ve been given a general topic of focus or theme from your professor.

STEP 1: QUESTION

Take a few minutes and ask yourself the following questions. Write down any thoughts you have or ideas that come to mind. Circle or highlight important words or phrases on your assignment sheets, like the type of assignment or the category or theme of the assignment.

Understanding the Assignment

  • What is my assignment? Is there an assignment sheet I can reference?
  • Do I understand what’s asked of me? 
  • Do I know the assignment parameters (type of assignment, length requirements, etc.)?

Topic Thoughts

  • Have I been provided with a topic, or do I need to choose my own?
  • Is the assigned topic specific or broad? Do I need to narrow it down?
  • Can I relate the theme to something interesting we’ve discussed in class?
  • Can I relate the assignment to my major or personal interests?

Example:

If I was assigned a research paper that had to focus on World War II, I’d make note that my assignment is a research paper with the theme is WWII, and this is a semester-long project that will also become a presentation. The professor mentioned a bit about how this war changed the role of women, so I think that’s interesting.

STEP 2: BRAINSTORMING

Brainstorming is the process by which ideas are produced using techniques like concept mapping, free-writing, etc., and can be used to choose a topic or narrow down a broad topic. There are many brainstorming techniques that you can use to choose a topic, but asking the 5 W’s and H is a good place to start! 

Ask yourself the following questions when you have an idea in mind: 

  • WHO are the important / influential people involved with my topic? 
  • WHAT are some examples of this topic? 
  • WHEN – what time period(s) are appropriate to this topic? 
  • WHERE – is it tied to a specific country, state, city or geographic area?
  • HOW has this topic/idea/work influenced others?
  • WHY is this topic/idea important –to others, and to me?

Example:

Now that I know I’m interested in researching women in WWII, I’ll go through the 5 W’s and H to get more specific ideas. I’ll answer these questions with my idea in mind:

  • WHO – Women in WWII
  • WHAT – I need to do more research, but we talked about women in the military.
  • WHEN – Duration of the war (1939-1945)
  • WHERE – United States of America
  • HOW – I need to do more research on this part too, but we talked a little bit about how after the war, women started to challenge social norms and call for equal rights.
  • WHY – Based on what we’ve discussed in class, it seems like the role of American women in WW2 changed the perception of women and their role in society. It also brought about changes and movements after the war.

STEP 3: CHOOSING A TOPIC

It’s now time to choose a topic! Using the ideas you’ve generated in Steps 1 and 2, make a list of possible assignment topics or related ideas. Which ideas best relate to your assignment? Will you continue to find the topic(s) interesting throughout the next week, weeks, or semester?

Example:

Topic: I’m interested in researching the role of American women in World War 2. Specifically, I want to focus my research on the role of women before the war and how their role changed during the war, and explore women’s roles in society postwar and how this lead to equal rights movements.

MEET WITH A CONSULTANT

Have other questions? Research consultants can help! We specialize in brainstorming topics, finding sources, reading scholarly materials, and evaluating research. 

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