Before you start doing your research, clarify in your own mind what the instructor’s expectations are for this paper. Typically these expectations will be spelled out in detail in the instructor’s outline or perhaps in a handout that you receive in class. Other faculty members may simply convey their expectations about research papers orally and in a very informal manner.
However the specifications for your research paper are conveyed, it is your responsibility to make sure that you understand them completely. If there is any ambiguity about what is expected of you with respect to your research you are doing in a class, the time to ask your instructor questions is well before you begin to do your research.
The first step in the process of writing a paper is to select a topic upon which to write. If your instructor has not assigned a specific topic for you or has not give you a list of topics from which to choose, you will have to choose one yourself. Generally, your topic will be related to the subject area of the course for which you are writing the paper. Look over the general topics that were discussed in your class. Were there any problems or issues discussed that piqued your interest? If nothing comes to mind try flipping through the textbook used in class to see if anything strikes you..
If you still can't think of a topic for your paper, don’t give up hope just yet. Try looking through general works in the same subject area in the library. For example, if you are taking a course in Medieval philosophy, do a general search for works available in this area in your college library. Flipping through a few of these works should enable you to come up with a preliminary topic on which to begin your research. Some general topics might include: "Thomas Aquinas’ Understanding of Natural Law," "Augustine’s Political Thought," or "St. Bonaventure’s Proofs of God’s Existence."
1.3 Guidelines for Selecting Topics
Keep in mind that the word topic come from the Greek term, topos, which can be translated literally as "a place to work." If your topic is too broad, you have failed to give yourself an adequate place to work. During the process of doing your research, your aim should be to take a broad and unwieldy topic and transform it into something specific enough for you to do real research on it. The topics suggested above should eventually be refined into workable topics such as the following: "The Eternal Law as Foundation for Ethics in Thomas Aquinas," "Augustine’s ‘Two Cities’ as a Model for Medieval Political Thought," and "Bonaventure’s Use of Nature as Proof for the Existence of God in the Itinerarum Mentis in Deum."
Before you settle on any topic be sure to ask yourself two fundamental questions: First, is this topic interesting enough to engage you throughout your research and writing? No matter how dry you may find a particular course, there usually is some issue that has been discussed—even superficially—that can capture your interest. Remember: if you find your topic dull, so will your reader. Second, are there are enough resources available to enable you to do adequate research on the topic you’ve chosen? If your topic is too esoteric or narrow you will not be able to defend your ideas rigorously enough to satisfy your reader. A good rule to follow is that a topic is adequately researchable if you are able to find one source (books, articles, etc.) for each page that you have been asked to write.