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HIST 4304-Early Republic & Antebellum U.S. (Mammina): Developing a Topic

Narrow Your Topic

As your Research Proposal Assignment Sheet reads: "One of the most common missteps is to choose a topic that is too broad. Many initial research proposals take on a large and complex range of issues over a long period of time without any particular focus. It is better to focus on a particular incident, a narrow span of time, a limited range of primary sources, or a single theme."

Let's look at an example that everyone is familiar with!

Starbucks cup on wooden table. Background is out of focus

You LOVE Starbucks (hey, doesn't everyone?) and you'd like to do your research paper on Starbucks. However, you can't just do your paper on Starbucks. It would take multi-volume books to cover everything on Starbucks! 

Let's try to narrow it down. What is an aspect of Starbucks that you are interested in? How about Starbucks cups? That is definitely more narrow but there are still multiple angles you could take. Some ideas are:

1. Cultural/Social Aspects: How does being able to buy Starbucks signify wealth/success to others? Recently, there was a scandal surrounding the Christmas cups. Do you think Starbucks should keep their cups holiday-free or should they identify with a specific religion?

2. Economic Aspects: What is the cost analysis of only using disposable cups? How does the size options of the cups affect the amount you can charge? 

3. Environmental Aspects: Should Starbucks use recyclable material for the disposable cups, etc.? Should Starbucks no longer offer plastic straws or drink stoppers? If so, is there a better alternative?

These are only a few options that you could use if you wanted write about the Starbucks cup. You can apply this kind of thinking to your own topic. 

Other Tips!

1. Pick a Topic that is Exciting to You

This may seem obvious, but remember to pick a topic that you are interested in. Sometimes students go for what they think is the easiest topic, but even "easy" topics are hard to research and write when they are boring to you! You will be required to write an 8 page research paper on this topic. Make sure it is something that interests you so you aren't miserable as you work through this assignment!

2. Stay Flexible 

Be flexible while you are in the beginning stages of picking a topic and researching. Often times, once you start interacting with the literature on a topic you might find that your question doesn't really work or that you need to add an aspect to your topic. Let the research guide you!

Developing a Topic Tutorial

Complete this tutorial to develop your own topic for your research assignment!


Jaena Manson's picture
Jaena Manson