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Exploring the topic of your research paper

Exploring your topic before you begin to write will help you to establish what you already know about it, what you think about the issues involved, and what you need to find out.  When you explore ideas, you are trying to capture your thoughts on paper, to create meaning, build understanding, and consider all the possibilities of the topic.


  • Put down everything that comes to mind on the topic as quickly as you can. Don’t criticize or edit your ideas
  • Also brainstorm any questions you can think of, concerning the topic
  • Then look at your ideas--what ideas link with others?  What ideas particularly interest you? What questions would you like to explore?


Main idea: William Morris, nineteenth century artist

This writer has put down a few initial ideas about the artist--they are not extensive but they give scope to develop further.

  • British artist
  • wallpaper designs--flowers, animals
  • popular now
  • 19th century--Victorian style
  • connected with Socialist cause
  • knew other painters
  • went to Oxford
  • connected with printing in some way

Mapping: a non-linear, interconnected way of brainstorming 

  • Write your subject or topic in the center of the page.
  • Branch out from the center by brainstorming an idea related to the topic.
  • Explore this idea further by branching to other ideas.
  • When you reach the end of one branch, go back into the middle to generate a new idea and make it a new branch to explore.
  • When you finish, look at the map. If a particular area seems to grab your attention or has the potential to develop more, create a new map, this time putting that branch’s key idea in the center. See how much more you can explore that topic. 

Free wrting: a technique that captures your flow of thought

  • Start writing and let your ideas flow as if you were talking about the topic.
  • Write quickly without worrying about correctness; do not reject or edit any ideas
  • Read what you have written and see what ideas you came up with.
  • Pick out and underline key sentences and phrases. Using these, write a sentence (or more) to summarize the most important things you said about the topic.


Brainstorm around your topic by asking yourself the journalists’ questions:

  • Who?
  • What?
  • When?
  • Where?
  • Why?
  • How?


  • Talk aloud to yourself, or find someone to listen to you.
  • Jot down your ideas in point form.


Speak to others about your topic--gather opinions, observations and specialized information.

Researching in the library

Use CLUES, databases, ask the Research Librarian for help or use the “Live Chat” service.

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