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Picking A Topic For A College Research Paper

Sometimes when you’re assigned a college research paper, you’re assigned a specific topic. In a way, this makes your job easier, because you have a better idea what is expected of you. But sometimes you’re not assigned a topic, and while you do have the freedom to choose something that genuinely interests you, it may leave you at a loss for just where to begin.

Research papers in the humanities probably accommodate the broadest range of topics, from the historical to the current, with technology and its effects being valid topics in many cases too. One place you may get inspiration for topics is a bit unusual: commencement speeches. While these are often feel-good pieces that are light on data, you can use them to get an idea of what is important in your times. The website “Humanity” has an extensive archive of commencement speeches.

The field of popular psychology has plenty of low hanging fruit that you can pick for your research paper topics. Research confirming or debunking generally held truths can make compelling topics for research papers. For example, do people really only use 10% of their brain power? How is that measured? Does a “positive attitude” really correlate with better cancer survival? Are people really “left brained” or “right brained”?

The wisdom of tackling hot button issues of the day really depends on the class, the student, and the instructor. If you have a halfway decent instructor, don’t expect to raise your grade by picking a topic and echoing what you believe to be his or her opinion on it. A good instructor is trying to help you learn to write persuasively and knows his or her own argumentative weaknesses and how to weed them out of the grading process. But if your instructor, the nature of the class, and your own inclinations all say it’s OK to tackle that controversial topic, go for it.

Suppose you’ve exhausted your store of current event interests, commencement speeches, news stories, and the like, and you are still without a topic. Here are 10 suggestions. Perhaps one will lead you to a topic that you can pour some passion into and ace that research paper. (Note that many of these will be primarily of interest to students in the United States.)

1. Why do women still earn about 75 cents for every dollar earned by men?
2. How has steroid use affected Major League Baseball statistics?
3. Is the American media predisposed to heavily cover crimes against attractive, white women?
4. Does mass standardized testing in schools result in better educated students?
5. What are the main causes for the increase in obesity in Western nations?
6. Do abstinence-only sex education programs affect teen pregnancy rates?
7. What are possible consequences of convicted felons having voting rights reinstated?
8. Do organic fruits and vegetables result in better nutrition or are they a “feel good” trend?
9. Costs to the health care system of smokers versus non-smokers over a typical lifetime.
10. How does widespread cell phone use affect everyday safety (behind the wheel, etc.)?

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