Top Mistakes Students Make When Picking Research Essay Topics

Choosing Research Essay Topics: 6 Worst Mistakes

While a research essay is not a very demanding type of academic assignment, and the requirements applied to it are not nearly as strict as with many other types of papers, you still have to approach the choice of topic carefully. While you will probably not have to write a research proposal and have it accepted (which is usually the case with longer assignments, like a dissertation or a thesis), a poorly formulated research topic or title can seriously harm your prospects. So what are the worst mistakes you can make when choosing research essay topics? Let us take a look at some of them.

1.  The Topic Is Too Broad or Unspecific

One of the common mistakes of college students is the fear to commit to anything specific. They either do not have any particular ideas about what their paper should be or are afraid of not finding the necessary information if they delineate their topic too narrowly. As a result, they pick something extremely broad and unspecific. For example, if your project aims to “study the effect of social behavior on the efficiency of education”, it is an extremely broad topic. Even if you take it in this direction at all, you have to first specify:

  • Whose behavior is it? That of students, teachers, professors, parents?
  • What education level are you talking about? Is it grade, middle or high school? College? Vocational school?
  • What do you understand by social behavior in the first place?

2.  The Topic Is Unjustified

Writing a research paper of any kind is different from just writing for your own amusement. You are dealing with science here, and the questions posed by science should not be idle. In other words, good topics are the ones you can justify. To justify your topic, you need to prove two things about it: that it is original and that it is important. Originality means that the research you intend to carry out is novel (at least within its own context). A topic that has been studied in a hundred other easily available works can be easy to write about, but it will not earn you many points with your professors. Importance means that there is a point in doing this research. Even if your topic is breathtakingly unique, it is not enough to make it worthy of researching. Perhaps nobody tried it out before exactly because the knowledge that can be obtained through it is useless.

3.  Your Research Methodology Is Poorly Articulated or Impractical

The topic per se is not all that makes research. How you intend to carry it out is just as important. If you have only a vague idea of how you are going to do your research, or if your methodology is just not practical, it is also not a very good idea to commit to such a topic. Some examples:

  • It requires too many resources for the projected yield;
  • It is going to take too long to achieve meaningful results;
  • You do not have sufficient preliminary information to carry it out.

4.  Poor Project Planning

Yes, you should start thinking about such things already at the stage of picking a topic for your essay, without waiting for prompts from your professor. Of course, this being an essay, the scope of your project is not going to be particularly large, but still – you have to have a very clear idea of what, when, and how you are going to do for your research. If its timeframe will turn out to be much longer than you believed possible originally, you may end up not being able to complete the research in its entirety by the time you are supposed to finish and submit the final draft of your essay.

5.  Failing to Meet Your College’s Criteria

Again, we are talking about a fairly small-scale project, and the requirements applied to them are not as strict as for large assignments, but still – if you fail to follow your college’s or university’s criteria concerning the acceptable directions of research, timeframes, and suchlike, you are going to be in trouble.

6.  Your Topic Is not Well-Grounded in Theory

No academic research exists in isolation. While you have to investigate new areas and find new ways, the foundation of your future research should always be firmly rooted in existing works. If the topic you intend to work on is not sufficiently connected with the existing body of literature on the subject, your paper is unlikely to be treated seriously.

Choosing a topic for a research essay is an important task that, to a significant extent, determines the success or failure of the entire assignment. We hope that the suggestions we made here will make it easier for you to avoid the worst mistakes that students tend to make.


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