What advice do you share with your students when assigning a research paper or project? Share your thoughts on helping learners focus on a topic of research in the comments section below.

So you’ve been assigned a research paper, and you have a pretty good idea of what you’d like to write about (or maybe not quite yet). What’s next? Rather than just diving in and committing to writing about a topic, Susan Miller-Cochran and Rochelle Rodrigo, authors of The Wadsworth Guide to Research, recommend that you take some time to explore it more fully to ensure that you can find enough resources to conduct your research. In their book, Miller-Cochran and Rodrigo provide tips for using the Internet to explore the topic you think you’d like to write about. Depending on whether you’re already pretty sure of your topic, or the topic is still up in the air, you can choose which path below best fits your situation.

  • If you’re fairly sure that you’ve decided on the focus of your research: Search online for discussions and blogs that focus on the topic you’d like to research. Though things like blogs and Wikipedia don’t lend themselves well to credible research once you get into writing your paper, they can be good places for you to explore initially to learn what people have to say about your topic.
  • If you still haven’t settled on a research topic: Rather than scouring the blogosphere, you’ll want to seek out resources that provide potential topics and places to learn more about them. Miller-Cochran and Rodrigo recommend searching web directories, which help you sift through topics by narrowing from more general terms to more specific topics within them. This can be more helpful to you at this stage than typing in random terms to a search engine and sorting through results. One such source the authors recommend is the Open Directory Project. (p. 44)

Our colleagues at Questia also share tools, tips, and resources that can help you conduct more effective research. Visit their blog for advice on writing research papers, including citations, using a handy checklist, and more!

Visit Cengage Learning’s YouTube page to hear Susan Miller-Cochran discuss how she and co-author Rochelle Rodrigo wrote the Wadsworth Guide to Research to focus on the writing context and to reflect what works in teaching research in the classroom.

Reference: Content adapted from Miller-Cochran, Susan and Rodrigo, Rochelle. The Wadsworth Guide to Research, Second Edition. 2014. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.