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Research Smarter: Information Literacy Skills: Topic Ideas

Build essential research skills for college success and lifelong learning.

Need Research Ideas?

If you haven't determined your research topic, try some ideas on this page to get those brain juices flowing.

Tips for college research assignments:

  1. Make sure you understand your assignment requirements. Read your assignment sheet thoroughly before you begin your research. Highlight or underline the main requirements; look up unfamiliar assignment terms and ask questions as needed to clarify your instructor's expectations.
  2. Select a topic you find interesting. If you find a topic compelling, the research and writing process will be more satisfying for you. Your passion (or lack thereof) will be evident in your paper and affect the reader's (or grader's) response, as well.
  3. Avoid topics that are too broad or too narrow. Your instructor will probably set limitations for the length of your paper. If you pick a problem that is too general, you won't be able to adequately cover it in a few pages. If you select a problem that is too narrow, you may have trouble finding helpful sources. This could prove frustrating and make the assignment harder than it needs to be.

A solid way to approach your research is to fill in this sentence.

I'm studying __________ to investigate __________ in order to understand __________.

Define Your Topic

The first step in an effective search is defining your topic. A good library research topic usually contains 2-3 concepts. It is often in the form of a research question or statement.

Topics that have only one concept or have many concepts are hard to research.

 Look at these examples for how to break a topic into concepts. We will use the concepts as keywords. See how the outcome changes when you have more or fewer concepts in a search topic:

Topic Number of Concepts Outcome

Good: Impact of obesity on the development of Type II Diabetes

obesity and Type II Diabetes= 2 33 results in 

CINAHL Complete


Good: How do high school dropouts rate their self-efficacy?

high school and dropouts and self-efficacy= 3 6 results in  Academic Search Elite database
Too broad: Obesity Obesity= 1 14.303 results in CINAHL Complete  database
Too narrow: Do conflicts with 9th grade homeroom teachers result in students in Boston dropping out of school? 9th grade and homeroom and teachers and students and Boston and drop out= 6 0 results in Academic Search Elite  database

Be Aware: Are you trying to support your personal opinion? Scholars focus on measurable research, and work to avoid bias. Your opinion may not be researched, or the research may support a different conclusion.


 Thanks to the Walden University Library for their original content. Used by permission.

Wikipedia & Pre research Tools Workshop Presentation

Controversial Topics Resources

Latest from Pew Research Center

Grab topics of interest related to current research. The Pew Research Center is a great place to start; explore the website for ideas beyond the handful listed below.

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Latest videos from TED

Select a short video below, or browse the TED website to find talks that will inspire and amaze you--and hopefully give you ideas for further research.

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Keep an Interest Inventory

Develop a list of topics that intrigue you. Personal interest can drive your motivation and make the process meaningful. 

Categories to consider:

  • Conflicts
  • Controversies
  • Culture (art, film, music, literature, etc.)
  • Entertainment
  • Headlines (think both local & global)
  • Health
  • Hobbies
  • Justice
  • News
  • Politics
  • Technology
  • Travel
  • Trends