Choose a topic

Sometimes choosing your topic may seem like the hardest part of a project. Your assignment will be your starting point, and the requirements will tell you a lot about what sorts of ideas will make an appropriate topic:


  • How long does your paper need to be?

    A shorter paper will need a more narrowly focused idea, and a longer paper a broader one.
  • How much time do you have?

    If you have several weeks, it’s likely your instructor is expecting you to do a lot of research.
  • Do you need a a particular number or type of references?

    Scholarly books and articles, for example, take time to write and publish, so topics focused narrowly on a recent event can be problematic.


There are several ways to help generate ideas for a paper if reviewing the requirements of your assignment leaves you stumped.


  • Talk to your instructor or TA.

    They may have suggestions, or can give you examples of the sort of ideas that have made for good papers for other students.
  • Talk to your classmates.

    Find out what ideas they’re considering. Talking to each other is a good way to brainstorm and to figure out what interests you.
  • Think about what you’re studying in other classes.

    Are there interesting ways in which they might intersect with or relate to this class?
  • Browse newspapers (in print or online) or reference materials

    If you decide to use a current event as your starting point, keep in mind that it takes time to write scholarly articles and books on a subject. You may need to broaden your focus to have a meaty enough topic to write about.
  • Look through this list of topics

    that the University of Illinois Library has collected. It has dozens of topics that have been of interest to recent students. It’s a great place to start if you’re at a loss for ideas.