The research paper can be quite dull if you don’t write about something that you actually want to know about. Your choices are almost limitless, so the trick is to think about things that pop into your mind that you wish you had the time to find out more about. Then think about how to build an argument that is relevant to those issues. If your neighbor’s child has Autism and you wish you understood it, or if you are an undecided major, or if you are wondering what the job market will be in five or ten years, or if you’re interested in knowing more about governmental health plans, or if you are wondering how fashion trends are discovered, or if you wish you knew more about animal testing, or if the history of baseball has always interested you, or – well, you’re getting the picture, right?? Think of questions or topics you’d like to discover more about and TAKE ADVANTAGE of the opportunity to find out more about it. Almost any interest that you have can be turned into an argumentative research paper. It’s just a matter of thinking about the issues people can debate relevant to your interest. First choose a topic that intrigues you; second, find an argument connected to that topic.
If you come across a clever article that gets you thinking about something, SAVE IT! Go to the library and grab non-fiction books off the shelf that you wish you had time to read. Google something and scratch down some notes. If you can think of something over the next couple of weeks that is interesting, your research paper will be SO much better than if you grab a topic at the last minute. If you’re really stumped, the library website has research suggestions and there are plenty of websites out there that can suggest research topics also.
Your topic can be as personal or as impersonal as you’d like, but it does need to be argumentative and persuasive. For now, just start considering topics and gathering sources. Then you can take the next step of finding the controversy and deciding which side of the issue you want to argue for or against.
1. Any website source you choose must be credible. That means NO Wikipedia, NO About.com or Answers.com, NO blog sites. See what your textbook says about Evaluating Sources and email me if you have questions about a particular source. Documentaries are great sources. Interviews, magazines, newspapers, corporate websites, etc. are also great sources. Look for .edu, .gov, and .org and your chances of the site being credible will improve.
2. Even though your topic is so open that you can almost write about anything that suits you, experience has taught me that there are a few topics I have to make off-limits — not because they are too controversial, since I think the more controversial an issue is, the better the paper will be — but because they’ve been done in research papers way too often to be interesting to anyone anymore and also because people have a tendency to waiver on their opinions of these topics instead of being confident and authoritative.
So here is the list of topics that CANNOT be the subject of your research paper: the death penalty, the legalization of marijuana, same-sex marriage, social media, and abortion. Actually, I’m on the fence about whether to include the death penalty in that list, so if you really want that topic and think you can do a great job with it, email me and maybe you can talk me into it. No way on the other ones, though! You can write about something related to these topics that is more specific and focused; email me to discuss it if you are concerned about whether your topic will be considered off-topic. Also, remember that you cannot write an essay that discriminates against any group of people! For example, writing an argument that women are not clever enough to be in the workforce and so should stay at home and raise their children is sexist and misogynistic. Do NOT write papers that argue to deprive people of their rights based on gender, race, religion, or sexual preferences.
Besides, you want to get more original and exciting than those topics, right? Think about things you enjoy and what people may debate related to those things. And be specific! You can’t write a strong paper based on a general argument; you will need to go beyond the obvious and find the hidden arguments that show off your critical thinking skills.
If you are having trouble finding a good topic, check out the library’s research resources links. One good one is the database Opposing Viewpoints, which has a homepage that lists many controversial topics that can be easily argued in two or more directions. Or do a Google search for controversies or ethical debates and see what shows up. You can always test whether you have a good argumentative topic by finding two or more valid, reasonable arguments that can be made to oppose each other. If there is no opposite to the argument you are making, you probably aren’t making an argument.
Good luck! And remember to write with passion and persuade readers with your good source facts, strong reasoning, and effective rhetorical strategies!
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