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Choosing a Topic   Tags: essays, writing  

This guide will provide you with tips and strategies for choosing and refining a topic.
Last Updated: Mar 1, 2017 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

Choosing a Topic Print Page

What's Your Topic?

Sometimes thinking of a topic can be the hardest part of the research process. If you are stuck for a topic, try browsing these resources:

  • Controversial Issues Research Guides
    Librarian created research guides on dozens of topics which will help you find books, articles and more.
  • Opposing Viewpoints in Context - Browse Issues
    Resource to investigate hot topics and social issues. Contains pro/con viewpoints, background information, statistics, primary sources, news articles, and podcasts.
  • Issues & Controversies - Issue Index
    Issues & Controversies often covers multiple aspects of controversial issues through several articles. Looking at the clusters of related articles, you can gain a comprehensive picture of the issue and find ideas for research topics.
  • Gale Virtual Reference - SOCIAL ISSUES  Icon
    A database of encyclopedias, almanacs, and reference sources specialized for researching Social Issues
  • Issues in the News
    A collection of articles from NewsBank covering an array of perspectives on the key current issues in the media.
  • CQ Public Affairs
    Features in-depth reporting on vital public policy issues, statistical and historical analyses, and full text primary source materials.

On the Web

Below are some websites to help you with choosing and refining your topic:


How to Find and Develop a Research Topic in Two Easy Steps


Select a Topic:

Need More Help? 

  • Discuss your topic ideas with your class instructor
  • Discuss your topic ideas with a reference librarian
  • Look over the index and the article titles in a specialized encyclopedia that covers the subject area or discipline of your topic (for example, psychology, women's studies, world history, etc.). For help locating an appropriate encyclopedia for your subject, consult a reference librarian.

Now Try:

Stating your topic idea as a question.

For example: if you are interested in finding out about use of alcoholic beverages by college students, you might pose the question, "What effect does use of alcoholic beverages have on the health of college students?"

Identify the main concepts or keywords in your question. In this case they are alcoholic beverages, health, and college students.


Test the main concepts or keywords in your topic by looking them up in the appropriate background sources or by using them as search terms in the Cerritos College Library Catalog and in Research Databases.

  • Too much information? If you are finding too many sources, narrow your topic by using the and operator.

For example: beer and health and college students

  • Too little information? This may indicate that you need to broaden your topic. Broaden your topic by linking synonyms with the or operator. Look for information on students, rather than college students.

For example:  alcoholic beverages or beer or wine or liquor. Using truncation with search terms also broadens the search and increases the number of items you find.


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