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Researching and Writing a Paper: Ideas for Topics

This guide is about how to start, research, write, and format, a paper.

Some of the databases in this list provide basic details, important names, places, dates, and other facts. Others cover current events or controversial issues, and many provide lists of topic ideas. These sources are good places to look for a topic or to find background information on a topic (and, sometimes, some good citations).

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Choosing a Topic

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  • The Congressional Research Service provides valuable insight and non-partisan analysis of issues of public debate. These reports are available to everyone for free.

  • Gale Academic One File Topic Finder RTC log-in needed for this database.: Find new topics or keywords and discover new connections among the results.

  • is a leading source for information and research on all sides of the issues of the day.  You can search topics by an alphabetical list, by category, and by debate topics.  Note: This site contains unrelated advertising, ignore the ads.

  • AllSides provides information and ideas from all sides of the political spectrum so people can better understand the world and each other. In addition to their discussions of media bias, misinformation, and perspectives, they provide information about many topics in the news.  They offer a list of hot topics, recommended topics, and a ‘search for any issue’ option. (Contains some advertising, ignore the ads.)

  • Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan organization that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world. They do not take policy positions. They offer a variety of information about over 200 topics, and they explain how they gathered and analyzed the data.

  • Wikipedia. As a tertiary source that anyone can edit Wikipedia itself is not considered an actually reliable source of information, but the articles and their links can be very useful for choosing a topic or identifying information you need to learn more about. Note: the citations in Wikipedia articles can often lead to reliable information and good citations. Reading a Wikipedia article can also provide you with some useful search terms for finding more information. Additionally, since Wikipedia is not considered a reliable source any article in Wikipedia comes with questions about the information that is and is not included in the article - this can be to your advantage because good questions help generate good research and good papers.  Wikipedia is available in many languages, although the English version has the most articles.

  • Google Scholar - Google, but for scholars! Try a few searches on a topic you are considering, vary your search terms, look at several of the articles you find (download or save the ones that might be useful). Google Scholar includes links to articles that cited the article you are looking at – if that article is useful to you some of the articles that cite it might be useful to you. (Similarly, try looking up the citations that appear in a useful article.)  There is also a link to similar articles, and Google Scholar provides citations for the articles it finds. Search advice is available. (Note: if you are using the regular Google to search for 'non-scholarly but reliable' sources, please remember that the first several links are usually 'sponsored links', meaning that someone is wanting to sell you something and paid for that link to be there. Sponsored links are rarely considered reliable sources.)

  • Similarly searching in the Library Databases can also be a good way to get an idea of how a topic is discussed and whether there seems to be enough sources for your paper.  Note: Different databases have different collections of articles, so try more than one database and/or consult with one of our friendly librarians!

  • OneSearch allows you to search much of the RTC Library's collection of books, ebooks, videos, journals and more. On the left side of the search-results screen are several ways you can modify your search. Each entry in the catalog contains some subject terms (about halfway down the page), click the links to find similar items. The librarians will be happy to help you broaden or narrow your search until you find what you need. (The Library Catalog Search brings up results from our physical collection and our ebooks, so if you are more looking for books than you are journal articles give it a try!) As a general guideline, if you have been searching for more than 5 minutes and have not found what you are looking for, please contact us.

  • SIRS Discoverer RTC log-in needed for this database. Magazine articles and pictures on everything from current events to biology to art history. (Easy reading level.) Scroll down a little bit for their 'Help Choosing A Topic', with terminology, essential questions, viewpoints, critical thinking questions, and more.