Skip to Main Content

Engineering: Starting Your Research

Starting Your Research

Choosing from a List of Suggested Topics

An instructor's list of suggested topics is a good place to start when choosing a term paper topic. Your instructor is an expert and knows the issues.

Remember that these ideas are often broad suggestions. They may need to be narrowed in order to make them feasible term paper topics.

Scanning Your Course Outline and/or Textbook

Your course syllabus and/or textbook gives you an overview of the course content or subject area and can be a good source of ideas.

Don't forget to check any associated lists of required and optional readings for more ideas.

Reference Books in the Library

  • General encyclopedias - A general encyclopedia such as the Encyclopaedia Britannica Online or AccessScience offers many in-depth essays, which are often followed by bibliographies.
  • General books about a topic - You will find many other general sources in the library collection that can provide an introduction to a topic.
  • Specialized encyclopedias - These are encyclopedias that deal with a specific area of study. They are scattered throughout the library collection (including online through the library catalogue) according to subject, and they occur as both single and multiple volume sets. Like general encyclopedias, they give a good overview of a topic and usually have a bibliography at the end of an article.

To find specialized encyclopedias in your subject area, add the word encyclopedias to a Keyword search in the library catalogue as follows:

Note:  The * searches for the root word with any ending (e.g., environment, environments, environmental, etc.).

Other Library Resources

  • Journals - Scanning journals in your discipline is a good way to identify important current research and issues. To find these, do a Keyword search in the library catalogue using the word periodicals and a word describing your discipline.
  • Library catalogue - Searching the library catalogue can also lead you to a term paper topic. At the same time, you will get an idea of the number of books the library has on your subject.
  • Journal indexes - Searching journal indexes can reveal important topics and give you an idea of the availability of articles about those topics. Remember that the library will not necessarily have all the articles you find in journal indexes. Some may need to be requested through interlibrary loan. This will only be possible if you start early enough to allow yourself time for document delivery and research.

    To access journal indexes, click on the Databases tab on the library's home page, click on the appropriate subject category, read the descriptions of the indexes, and then select the index that suits your needs. You may need to search more than one index. 

  • Indexes and tables of contents in books - Another good way to identify a term paper topic is to scan the tables of contents and indexes in books


  • Radio or TV news
  • Newspaper or magazine articles
  • Documentaries
  • Online media sites

All of the above can be good springboards for identifying issues on which to base a term paper. Be careful, though. If your instructor is expecting you to cite scholarly research, you may have trouble finding scholarly research related to a recent news item. Radio/TV news, newspapers, magazines, documentaries, and online media sites are NOT scholarly material.

A recent newspaper item may, however, be used as an example for a broader topic. For instance, there would have been no scholarly books or articles on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill just after it happened, but there would have been scholarly material on oil spills in general.

Talking with Others

  • An expert (i.e., your professor, another instructor, a government official)
  • Friends/Peers
  • Family

Do these people have any relevant ideas? Are the ideas feasible for a term paper? Can they give you any leads to important documents or authors?

Brainstorming or Nonstop Writing

  • Brainstorming just means writing down any ideas that come to you. Don't judge the ideas until after the brainstorming is over. You can do this by yourself or with friends.
  • Nonstop writing involves writing whatever comes into your head, without stopping, for a predetermined length of time -- say 10 minutes.

Keeping a Journal

Keep a journal while you are in the process of choosing and developing your term paper topic. Any time you think of, read about, or hear about an idea that would work for a term paper, record it in your journal. Write down any leads you get, as well as your thoughts as you investigate these topics. Your journal will help you remember your ideas and will serve as a basis for comparing the potential of various topics.

Links to help with Thesis Statements

A clear, strong, well-focused thesis statement is the foundation of a clear, strong, well-focused term paper. This is an important step. Be sure to take the time to do it well.

If you are examining online resources, don't forget to check out our information on evaluating websites.

Below are some resources to help you make sense of research methods, including research design, application, and communication:

Online Resources

Print Resources

Library Research Guide

The Library Research Guide is your one-stop information source on beginning your research, searching the Geoffrey R. Weller Library catalogue and databases, evaluating your sources, and more.

Collections & Acquisitions Librarian

Profile Photo
Heather Empey
she, her
Chat loading...
5-458 Library 4th floor

Contact Us

Interlibrary Loans

Can't find a book or book chapter, article, thesis or dissertation, or multimedia that you need?

If we don't have the item in our collection, you can request it through interlibrary loan at no cost for students.