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Choosing a research paper topic can seem like a daunting task. After all, you will spend a lot of time and energy researching and writing this paper. You want to pick something that is interesting for you and will get you the grade you want. Picking a research paper topic that fulfills all of these requirements is all about finding the right focus.
The general subject area of your research paper is often determined by the class for which you are writing. For example, if you are taking an American history class on the US Civil War, your general subject area is the Civil War. If, however, you are taking a more general class, such as the history of the United States, you need to start by narrowing your focus to a single general subject area, such as the American Civil War, the women's rights movement, or prohibition.
Once you have chosen a general subject area for your paper, you need to narrow your focus even more. A research paper topic should be specific enough that you can write a well-rounded paper on it within the page limit provided by your teacher. If your research paper is supposed to be ten pages long, taking the whole US Civil War as your topic will leave you drowning in sea of facts.
To narrow your subject, read over your class notes or textbook. Decide which topics seem most interesting. At this point, it might help to make a list of all the interesting research paper topics you come across.
When you have a list of three or four topics, it is time to find your focus. Think about each topic. It needs to be narrow enough that you can cover it in ten pages, for example, but not so narrow that you run out of material on page three.
Suppose you listed these three topics about the US Civil War: Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, art of the Civil War, and causes of the Civil War. All of these are good topics, but the focus can be narrowed. Take Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War. This is a broad topic about which whole books have been written. You can narrow it to how the Gettysburg Address shaped the Civil War.
This research paper topic is narrow enough that you can cover it well in ten pages. Yet it is also deep enough that you will find plenty of material to research. It is everything a research paper topic should be.
If you have free rein to choose a topic, pick one that is interesting and that you would enjoy writing about, anyway. Before you do this, do a little pre-research to make sure there are actual, reputable sources available for you to read and cite in your paper. There's nothing worse than choosing a great topic (to you) that has no sources.
The topic may be one that you already know a lot about, or it may be something you want to know more about. Either way, researching available, diverse sources is a good way to narrow down your choice.
Make sure you can understand the topic before writing about it. It's nearly impossible to write 10 pages about a topic you don't understand, and it's equally impossible to write so someone else can understand it.
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