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ENG 111 & EDE (WO)

Select a Topic

Start by selecting a topic that:

  • Meets assignment requirements.

    • What does your professor expect you to produce?  Read the assignment carefully and follow directions.
    • How long is your paper?
    • What types of sources are required, and how many?    
    • What class is this for?  You could write about electric cars in different classes - ENG111, business, sociology, engineering, science.  Your approach to the topic would be different in each class. 
  • Is relevant to you.

    • What issues personally affect you or your family?
    • What issues affect your intended field of work or study?
    • What issues have you heard about through the news or social media that you want to investigate?

This video will help you select a manageable research topic.

Form a Research Question

Narrow your interest and decide what question your paper will answer.  It seems counterintuitive, but a narrow topic is actually easier to research than a broad one. These strategies will help:

1. Write your topic as a question.


climate change


electric cars

Check mark

How will wide use of electric cars impact climate change?

2. Ask 5 Ws questions:

  • Who?
  • What?
  • When?
  • Where?
  • Why? / How?

Try an Example!

Let's start with a very broad topic:  Technology

First, turn it into a question:  How does technology affect society?

This is a good start, but the question is still broad.  Try using the 5 Ws!

  • Who?  Children, teens, toddlers, adults, low income families, the government ...
  • What?  Smartphones, Internet, social media, robots, online education ...
  • When?  Today, five years in the future, in 1945 ...
  • Where?  US, worldwide, Pakistan, rural areas, Virginia, Prince William County
  • Why / How?  Causes and effects

You won't always address all of the five Ws, but using a few will help narrow your focus.

By answering these questions, you can decide among a few possible research questions:

  1.  Does using smartphones and tablets hurt toddlers' brain development?
  2.  How can the government prevent job loss due to the rise of AI and automation in the tech industry?
  3.  How does limited internet access impact high school students in rural areas?

Check Your Research Question

Once you answer the 5 Ws, we can finally put together a great research question, but make sure that it passes this final test.

A good research question is...

  • Specific

Only answer one main research question in your paper. It seems counterintuitive, but a narrow topic is actually easier to research than a broad one.  Instead of mentioning many ideas briefly, focus on just a few points and develop them well.

  • Interesting

Consider the assignment an opportunity to learn more about something that interests you.  Research is easier and more enjoyable when you pick a topic that interests you.

  • Unique

Good research tackles new, unusual topics. Instead of "marijuana legalization", try "How should states use tax revenue generated by legalized marijuana?"

Adjusting Your Research Question

As you begin searching, you may find that your research question is too broad or narrow.  Research is a process and sometimes you have to change your original question.

How is the rising cost of college education impacting the U.S. economy?

"Economy" is a bit vague, and we can narrow the focus to one aspect of the economy, like homeownership.

How is the rising cost of college education impacting homeownership among young adults?