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Get It Done Guide to Undergraduate Research

Got a research assignment coming up? We're here to help.

Choosing a Topic: Topic Development

Research Topic Development

Congratulations on receiving your assignment! Before you toss out that page or skip to the next module, take a moment to look through the assignment guidelines. Professors may require a certain number of sources or source types, a certain database to be used, or you may be given a shortlist of pre-selected sources.

Let's take a look at the topic development process:

  1. brainstorming your topic
  2. obtaining background information
  3. exploring the 5 Ws
  4. developing some keyword research
  5. creating a research question or statement

These are some of the steps you'll go through when developing your research topic; we'll be covering the first three on this page. It's important to note that you may not follow the steps in this exact order or that you may go back and forth between some steps. However, touching on each step at least once will allow you to develop a well-rounded research topic and question / statement.

Brainstorming Your Topic

Take a look at the assignment guidelines and write down a few topics you'd be interested in exploring. We are going to use those topic ideas to see which one you find the most interesting and will also work best for your assignment guidelines.

If you need help coming up with topics, try some of these ideas:

  • look at news sources
  • pull ideas from course readings or topics listed in your syllabus
  • consider personal interests and how they tie to your class topic
  • check out these sources for background research to see what topics interest you: Opposing ViewpointsCQ Researcher
  • look through UMD databases by topic (in the "All Subjects" dropdown tab, select a subject area of interest to find relevant databases) 

Once you've pulled together a few ideas (no more than three), consider the following questions for each:

  • what do you already know about your topic?
  • what are you hoping to learn or explore about your topic?

Brainstorming Tools:

Use the concept mapping document below to plan out your potential topics

Obtaining Background Information

Now that you have a few topic ideas, we are going to do some quick exploration to make sure you have enough sources, and the right sources, to write about your topic.

Spend some time in our databases searching your topic, as well as exploring our subject specific resources to see related LibGuides, databases and subject librarians.

Once you've glanced over a few articles, take some time to reflect on the following questions:

  • what are some trends, issues, or current problems being discussed in regards to your topic?
  • which of those are you most interested in?
  • what questions do you have about this issue?
  • what are some keywords or phrases that were repeated or came up often?

We've linked a few databases below to get you started exploring topics:

Up Next

On the following page, we will be Exploring the 5 Ws and Research Keywords. These topics are important in developing your research topic because it will add depth to your paper and allow you to discuss or counter-argue various arguments within your paper. After that, we'll also be discussing how to develop your research question.