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Composition: Choosing a "Just Right" Topic

Resources for Composition I and Composition II courses


Are you feeling lost on your paper or assignment topic? Do you need help choosing a "Just Right" topic? This guide is designed to help you pick a topic and narrow it down to fit the assignment parameters.

Check out this slideshow (link opens another window).

What Makes a Good Topic?

Picking your topic can be overwhelming! Consider it just part of the research process. Just because you pick a topic doesn't mean it won't change or evolve as you research and write.

What makes a good topic?

  1. Interests or impacts you
  2. Familiar to you through coursework or personally - you have some existing knowledge
  3. Broad enough to have multiple sources of information
  4. Specific enough to be manageable in the page requirements of your paper
  5. Instructor approved

Finding Your Angle or Perspective

A research assignment needs more than just a topic. Research is problem-solving with information. It is more than a simple report of what is already known.

As you brainstorm a topic, you will probably find something within that topic to investigate. This is called an angle. The angle is a smaller, more specific element within the larger topic. The angles is what you will investigate with the context of the larger topic.

Once you have an angle, create a question about what you want to investigate. This research question shapers and guides your search for sources and ultimately your paper.

  • Assignment: What does it require? Are there specific criteria to meet, such as informative, argumentative, or problem/solution?
  • Topic: Brainstorm possible topics that fit the assignment. Consider topics you are interested in and care about
  • Angle: What smaller part of the topic can you focus on? Within this big topic, what are you most curious about? ( can be a good source for thinking about angles).
  • Question: Ask a question about your angle. Conduct research to find a potential answer to your question.

The process flow is illustrated in these images.

a graphic representation of the flow from assignment to topic to angle to questiongraphic illustration of a topic flowing from informative to addiction to causes to environment or hereditary


Tools for Research

Post-Research Checkpoint:

Pretend that you are researching for an argumentative paper. After you do your initial research using your topic, write down a question about your topic. Once you have a question, research the topic again. Ask yourself:

  • Are there enough results? 
  • Are the results “good sources”? 
  • Are there too many? 
  • Do you need to change your search terms or keywords & try again? 
  • Do you need to change or refine your question? 

Brainstorming for Your Topic

Brainstorming can be useful to help pick the "just right" topic for your assignment.

Some ways to brainstorm including asking yourself questions, free writing, and mind mapping. 

While it is not strictly necessary to do all three of these forms when beginning your assignment, it can be very useful to do some form of brainstorming in order to get your ideas flowing.

If you would like to create your own virtual mind map, consider using Bubble or Google Jamboard. (You will need to make an account to use either of these. Jamboard can be used with your Google e-mail sign in.)