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Writing a Paper: Topics/Thesis Statements

How to write a research paper

Scholarly Topic

What is a Scholarly Topic?

A scholarly topic should:

  • Focus on a narrowed issue, not a broad subject
  • Examine the issue, not just describe
  • Address a knowledgeable audience and expand that knowledge
  • Have a purpose
    • Analyses issues
    • Argues from a position
    • Explains complex details
  • Meet the expectations of your instructor and the course requirements
    • Read the assignment instructions thoroughly and carefully

(Adapted from Writing Research Papers: A Complete Guide, 12th Edition, by James D. Lester and James D. Lester, Jr., p. 13)

How to Select a Topic

How to Choose a Topic

Factors to consider when choosing a topic.

  • Does it raise questions that you would like to answer?
  • Are you interested in it? Will it help you explore and expand your ideas?
    • Don't choose a topic simply because you think it might be easier. Your level of interest is a key factor of quality work and getting it done.
  • Can you find enough relevant and reliable information and resources?
    • The library can help you with this
  • Will it challenge you and make you think?
  • Did a lot of other people choose the same or a similar topic?
    • Other students might already have some of the library resources you need. Don't wait until it's too late to find out.

(Adapted from The Curious Researcher: A Guide to Writing Research Papers, 5th Edition, by Bruce Ballenger, p 35-36.

How to Narrow Your Research Topic

Try to think of the Who, What, When and Where of a topic:

Broad topic: Alcoholism

Who? What population of people are you looking at?

  • Women? Single Moms? Native-Americans? Teenagers?

What? What aspect and/or viewpoint are you interested in?

  • Causes? Treatment?

When? If you aren't interested in what is happening now, what time period?

  • What century? What decade?

Where? Will you focus on a particular country, state or even city?

  • China? United States? Texas? San Antonio?

Narrow topic: Effective treatment plans for teenage alcoholics.

Narrow topic: Causes of alcoholism in Native-American populations.


Thesis Statement Writing Tips

Tips for Writing Your Thesis Statement

1.Determine what kind of paper you are writing:

  • An analytical paper breaks down an issue or an idea into its component parts, evaluates the issue or idea, and presents this breakdown and evaluation to the audience.
  • An expository (explanatory) paper explains something to the audience.
  • An argumentative paper makes a claim about a topic and justifies this claim with specific evidence. The claim could be an opinion, a policy proposal, an evaluation, a cause-and-effect statement, or an interpretation. The goal of the argumentative paper is to convince the audience that the claim is true based on the evidence provided.

If you are writing a text that does not fall under these three categories (e.g., a narrative), a thesis statement somewhere in the first paragraph could still be helpful to your reader.

2. Your thesis statement should be specific—it should cover only what you will discuss in your paper and should be supported with specific evidence.

3. The thesis statement usually appears at the end of the first paragraph of a paper.

4. Your topic may change as you write, so you may need to revise your thesis statement to reflect exactly what you have discussed in the paper.