The blank page can be a scary place.
When we don’t know where to start it often makes us feel like we have writer’s
block. Starting research papers is a difficult task you’ll face in writing,
especially if it’s up to you to choose the topic and direction. However, there
are strategies you can use to prompt the first sentence or idea that goes on
the page. I’m going to present some suggestions that I have found work for
students to help make the process of choosing and narrowing a topic a bit less
Perhaps I am a product of my
generation, but I believe in the facilitative qualities of Wikipedia. As a
teacher, students often seem shocked when I recommend that they browse through
Wikipedia to discover a topic or to find connections to their topic.
Say I want to write on the topic of
violence and video games because it interests me, or I have personal experience
with it. Where do I start? Claiming that video games cause violence is simply
too broad. You could write a book on that topic. There is so much information
on video games out there that it seems impossible to narrow it down. Enter
A quick search for video game
violence brings up a report page with hyperlinks and an outline of what the
report covers, including pros and cons of video games. Topics covered
immediately include race and video games, gender and video games, criminal
activity and video games, etc. This Wikipedia page details the background,
current and historical events, and positions surrounding the topic. It also
links to more academic sources. You might find that one of these interests you
and piques your attention. You can then go into your library databases or the
Internet using these new keywords. Try searching, perhaps, for video games
and gender violence, or racism and video games, or others.
Wikipedia and Google searches are great
ways to work on topic search and development. Even the Google function that
suggests phrases based on a word you type in can be helpful in providing ideas
of what people associate with your topic. What you end up with is the most
Other ways of developing topics include
keeping a journal and noting what you engage in conversation about. Often, the
things we talk about with our friends and peers in everyday encounters are the
things we find interesting or controversial. Keeping a written journal of
thoughts and ideas is a good resource. Even the work you do for other classes
(journals, writing exercises, etc.) can be a source of ideas for a research
paper, particularly if they are within your major/interests.
Once you have a second-level topic such
as videogames and gender violence, you can create a web, bubble chart, or map
(all are similar) where you place your topic in the middle and create
associations outward. Within this chart, you can ask questions, note examples,
and break video games and gender violence, for example, down into even narrower
topics. This might bring up questions like, How do video games affect men’s perspectives
of women, or vice versa? Gender can be narrowed down into male or
female. Video games can be narrowed down to examine games with certain
objectives or even a particular game.
While resources like Wikipedia are dangerous when used for later research because they are subjective and open to contributor error, they are good resources for reviewing background information and expanding your perception of your topic. Think of it as a jumping off point for your legitimate research. You don’t have to do all your topic development from scratch. There are many compilations of information that can assist you.
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