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ENGL 2A: (Lacrampe Winter 2022)

From Idea to Final Topic

Developing a great topic will be, by far, the most difficult part of this research project. Really. Once you have your topic, the rest - finding sources and writing - will follow naturally. 

Researching a topic is like painting a house, the most difficult part is the preparation, not the actual painting. You begin by filing in cracks and holes, then sanding, covering the areas you do not want to paint, etc. Once the prep work is finished, if you have done the job well, applying the paint becomes easy. It is the same with writing a paper. Developing a great topic takes time and effort. Even coming up with an idea for a topic is not easy. However, your previous work in this course has gotten you, hopefully, to the point where you have at least a general idea about what you would like to research. You now have to take that idea and turn it into a great topic.

Step 1: Coming Up With an Idea

Assuming you do have an idea for a topic, no matter how tentative or vague it may be at the moment, before you proceed to the next steps, you must translate your idea into concepts, which you will then translate into words and/or phrases for searching the various resources available to you. The following is an example of going from idea, to concept, to search words/phrases.


The Idea

How the internet has led people to become more inquisitive. The availability of so much information at your fingertips in this modern day compared to older times, people have become more curious about the surrounding world. 

Idea into Concept

internet use increases curiosity

Concept into Search Words/Phrases

internet use, curiosity

Step 2: Exploring Your Idea - Gathering Background Information

The first step in turning your concept into a great topic is to explore. Deciding on a topic without first exploring your initial idea, you risk going down a dead end road and having to back tract, or even start again from the beginning.


Using the concept that internet use increases curiosity, the first thing you might want to do is explore the word, "curiosity," as it may lead to additional insights about your concept. The most efficient way to find background information is to use dictionaries and/or encyclopedias. For example, the resources Credo Reference, Gale eBooks and Oxford Reference Online, allow you to search through hundreds of dictionaries and encyclopedias very efficiently. Links to these resources are under the Finding Background Information on Your Topic tab in this guide. Wikipedia is worth checking out for background information, though Wikipedia articles must not be used as a source, each articles has a list of sources at the end of the article and these can be used.

Step 3: Exploring Your Idea – Gathering Insights From Others

Once you have enough background information to feel confident that you fully understand your concept, the next step is to see what others have written about it. This step is not about finding sources for your research, that comes later; this step is general exploration of your concept to see what others have thought about it. This exploration will help you refine your concept further by giving you a better understanding of where you want to go with the concept. There are many, many resources that can help you to find out what others have already thought about the concept, however, two good places to start are with a Google search and searching using the SCU Library’s OneSearch.

For example, these quotes, found from a Google search, does internet use increase curiosity, finds a range of thoughts on the concept, from the thought that Internet use does indeed nurture curiosity to, no it does not promote curiosity but reinforces one's bias. You may not have considered the latter ... but if you are going to write a balanced paper, you should. 

“Once upon a time, I was as involved with the local library's research sources as any person could possibly be, both by phone to the research desk and in person. And then I found the rudimentary Internet! I embraced the Internet the first time I saw it in 1984, learned that I could actually access libraries in England and Australia for reference and information, and have been heavily involved with research on the Web since! I can't think of one curious mind that wouldn't be enchanted by the resources to be found there. And I believe that it might nurture curiosity in children who are encouraged to explore the absolute gold mine of interesting (and informative) things to be found there.”

“There are often differing opinions regarding most matters. Even some scientific opinions are doubted by some (e.g., global warming). My observation is that most people tend to rely upon that with which they agree. Given the abundance of information available via a search engine, some people will either accept the first observation they find or, if they disagree with it, will continue to search until they find an observation acceptable to them. Google does not promote curiosity; it's a means of reinforcing an existing opinion. Nor does it promote serious consideration: Some people are interested only in a small snippet of information and disregard the rest – even if it casts doubt or uncertainty on the snippet they've chosen.”

Step 4: Is Your Topic Too Broad (or perhaps too narrow)?

When developing your topic, you need to consider whether your topic is appropriate for the length of the paper you intend to write. Obviously, a topic that is appropriate for a 100-page book is not going to be appropriate for a ten-page paper. This means, while you may have followed all the steps above, you may still have to narrow your topic by being more specific. You can add specificity by focusing on a particular group of people, "children," "college students," "seniors," etc. You can focus on a particular region, "North America," "Europe," "California," the " San Francisco Bay Area," etc.

In rare cases, your topic may actually be too narrow. This may become evident when you are exploring your topic and there is no background information or no one else has written to the topic. In this case, think of ways to broaden the topic.

5. Finding Sources

By following the steps above, you will arrive at a topic that is both appropriate to the length of the paper you intend to write – that is, neither too broad nor too narrow – and is informed by insights you have gathered while exploring others' thoughts on the concept. Now it is time to use the various resources available to you to find sources for your topic. Remember, you need a minimum of five sources and these will probably include articles or books, or both, as well as other approved sources.