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ENG 1061/1070 English Composition/Effective Speaking: Choosing a topic

Getting started with background research for composition and speech topics.

Choosing your topic

Video from North Carolina State University Libraries. 

Tips for successful topic-choosing

  1. Make sure you understand the assignment and all the requirements. Read the assignment handout more than once. Bring it with you to the library!
  2. Choose a topic that is interesting to you and will be fresh for you and your audience. What is something that might be useful for you to know more about? An issue in your community? Something related to a career of interest? 
  3. Be flexible. Your original idea will probably morph several times before you are done, based on the information you find or don't find. You may need to broaden or narrow your topic. You may need to be flexible about the language you use for your topic, based on the searching and reading you do as you start your research.
  4. Start reading. The more you know, the easier it will be to refine your topic and know what terms to search for.

Concept map tool

See Credo Reference's Mind Map tool for your topic to visualize relationships among concepts and learn related keywords, with definitions of terms at your finger tips.

A mind map from Credo Reference connecting "Happiness" to related topics, including positive psychology, hedonism, and happiness economics.

Where to look for topic ideas

Browse the shelves in the Castleton library

Encyclopedias and other background resources are in Reference, or you can check out books from the Stacks to read later. 

The 600s section of the library stacks

Our library uses the Dewey Decimal System. This system assigns numbers to books based on subject, so that similar books can be grouped together. The hundred's place is the most general, and each additional digit gets to a more specific sub-topic. For example:

600 = Technology and applied sciences

610 = Medicine

617 = Surgery and related medical specialties

617.1027 = Sports medicine

Find the numbers that correspond to your interests and see what's on those shelves! If you aren't familiar with Dewey, click the link below for a breakdown of numbers and their topics.

Browse our magazines and journals 

Current issues are on display so you can browse covers, or look at a stack of one magazine that covers an area of interest.

Magazines on display in the library

For fresh ideas, see what's in the news.

National news sources:

State and local news sources:

Encyclopedias are a great source of background information. They can also be very useful when picking a topic. Look through the entries or table of contents and see what catches your eye.

Here are a few examples:

All of these resources list topics to browse and link to full-text resources on these topics.

Tip: You can Browse Issues in CQ Researcher. Click on a broad topic to see the list of subtopics. Reports include links to further sources.

Browse particular magazines or journals you know of that cover the kinds of topics you are interested in. You can browse and read some magazines and journals online. 

To find one of interest, you can browse an alphabetical list or search for a title or subject

See if your magazine is included in a database. In the image below, for example, we can see that Communication: Journalism Education Today is available in the database Education Research Complete. Click on the title of a database, and you can browse the journal by date or search within it.

Database listings for Communication: Journalism Education Today