Allen’s personal comments

Research topics—out into the unknown


As we begin the research/synthesis paper, Your first challenge is choosing a topic. I have given you several suggested topics which are based on the reading we have done, and you can also propose a topic of your own.

Many students want to use this last paper as an opportunity to dive into an area where they know absolutely nothing. While it is a very good thing to expand your knowledge, you should not write Essay #5 in total ignorance. Here’s why:

When you write in a field about which you know nothing, you face three dangers:

Getting out of the trap

Here is an exercise to help you avoid these frustrating, dead-end topics.

  1. Look over the list of suggested topics (it might be helpful to print the list), and mark all the items that you know something about. (Do you remember who Harriet Tubman was? Are you a great fan of hiking in national parks? Did you attend a non-public school?)
  2. Mark all the items that you would like to know more about. (Perhaps Harriet Tubman and non-public schools leave you cold, but you would really love to know more about the origin of our national parks.)
  3. Start another list (or two or three) of all the questions #2 has generated. (When was the first national park set aside? How did the public react? Whose idea was it?)
  4. Finally, where would you go for answers? Internet? Library? Experts you know?

If the list of suggested topics gave you something you like, you are ready to move forward. If, on the other hand, you want to launch into new territory, here is a similar exercise (and I suggest you do the one above first, just to see if one of those topics is a good fit).

  1. Five minute brainstorm list: All the things you know something about, maybe even are an expert on.
  2. Another five minutes: All the things you’d like to know more about.
  3. Now look at both lists and circle one thing you would like to know more about.
  4. List all the questions about that thing that you would love to have answers to.
  5. Finally, where would you go for answers? Internet? Library? Experts you know?

The views and opinions expressed in this page are strictly those of the page author.

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or approved by Ashland University.

Revised 1/4/22 • Page author: Curtis Allen • e-mail: callen@ashland.edu.