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TC 302: Hunger / Bizer

Background information - Choose a topic

How do I start a research paper in college?

Choosing a topic is research - and it's the hardest part. Here are some common problems and how to fix them:


You chose a very broad topic - ex. Irish potato famine

You can write many books about this event, but you are writing a very short research paper on the topic.


Narrow your topic by focusing on a particular controversy - ask, Who cares about  my topic? (who are the stakeholders, who is impacted?), What are they arguing about? (What is the problem? What different solutions do they propose?)


You chose an obscure topic - something on which there is little written.


Choose your topic after doing some reading in encyclopedias (listed below). Your task is to find an argument that you can tap into and explore the conversation. Search across a few articles to explore and use the suggested bibliographies to find richer sources.


You wrote your annotated bibliography, but now you have to write the paper and you're overwhelmed with all you found or some of it now seems useless.

This is a very common nightmare scenario! Sometimes when you are searching for your annotated bibliography you grab things from all over the place - you aren't sure what you are arguing about yet.


These are advanced research skills! Listen up: 1) narrow down, through topic exploration, to an aspect of the broader topic early on (as in, Irish potato famine ----> food exports during the famine). 2) Keep track of where you searched and what you found - you may need more sources later on - where were you happiest searching? 3) Use bibliographies in articles and books you like. By engaging in and following the conversation around a topic, you will become familiar with the narrower controversies and can stay on track more easily.

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