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Argumentative Research: Choosing a Topic

Student Learning Outcome: Locate argumentative research through appropriate library resources

Deciding on a topic for an essay can sometimes be overwhelming. The library has several resources that can help generate or spark ideas to write about. 

  1. Think about what interests you most or something you always wanted to find out about. 
  2. Use a resource to help you find a topic and gather some background information. Perhaps reading a newspaper will give you an idea.  Below are library databases that can help you locate topics on current events, controversial issues, or social issues.

Library Databases for Topic Ideas

These three databases are a good place to start when trying to decide on a topic or understand various arguments surrounding a topic.


All of the library's databases are available on or off campus. If you're using them off campus, you'll need to log in with your user name and password.

For off-campus access you'll need your UserID and Password:

User ID: 7-digit student number or faculty/staff Datatel number.

Password: First initial of your first name and up to six letters of your last name, all lower case with no spaces

Develop a manageable thesis statement before you start searching for articles.

If your topic is too broad, you may get too much information that you will have to sort through.

If it is too narrow, you may not find the information that you need.   For example:

Let's say you decided your topic will be the environment

Just environment?  - Too broad!!  There are so many aspects of the environment. 

What do you want to know about it, and why do you choose that topic?  Your answers may help you to focus or narrow it down.  Are you interested in pollution, water issues, social issues, political issues. anthropological or artistic issues, etc.

When trying to narrow down your topic, it may help to think of the 5 Ws:

  • Who? - Does your topic relate to a specific population, age group, ethnic group, etc?
  • When? - Does your topic involve a certain time period?
  • Where? - Is your topic specific to a certain geographic area, country, city, county etc?
  • What? - What aspect of your topic do you want to look at? Legal issues, social issues, educational issues, etc?
  • Why? - Why is your topic important or what are some of the concerns surrounding your topic? Pollution, economic impact, etc?

OK. You say "nature".  So natural environment?  Environment and nature?  What aspects of nature do you wish to research?  Oh, OK.  You were reading Henry Thoreau's Walden.  But, you are still not sure of an exact topic even though you want to include Thoreau in your nature research. How about considering today's issues of global warming with that of Thoreau's years?  

Select keywords once you have focused on a topic

Why are keywords important?  Keywords help you find information faster.  One you have good keywords, you can use those to search for book, for articles in journals, magazines, newspapers, etc. 

  • Make a list of keywords related to your topic.  When trying to decide what is a keyword, it may help to look for the nouns and/or verbs in your topic/thesis statement.

Examples of Research Questions / Thesis Statements and their keywords

  • Video games contribute to childhood obesity
    • The keywords would be: video games, childhood, obesity
  • Social networking sites should be liable for personal privacy
    • The keywords would be: social networking, liable, privacy
  • Charter schools are more effective than public schools
    • The keywords would be: charter schools, effective, public schools