Skip to Main Content

GEW 101B: Writing as a Rhetorical Act

Choosing a Topic

This page will take you through the process of topic exploration.

You will follow these steps:

  1. Browse and select a broad topic
  2. Explore the broad topic to learn a little bit about it and identify sub-topics
  3. Select a sub-topic and move forward with your background research

Use this worksheet to keep track of your notes on your own topic exploration:

Topic exploration can provide a basic understanding of the various aspects of your topic and give you a basic vocabulary of the topic that will help you in later searching. One of the best places to start is Wikipedia. Most Wikipedia entries include basic facts (who, what, where, when, why and how) along with vocabulary and references. While we strongly recommend that you start with Wikipedia, it won't be one of the references in your reference list. What you learn in a Wikipedia entry will be too general to be cited as a source.

Image of the research process, which includes: 1, getting the assignment; 2, choosing a topic; 3, conducting background research to understand the topic; 4, focusing the topic; 5, analyzing your topic by crafting an argument and supporting it with peer reviewed journal articles as evidence; 6, drafting your paper; 7, revising the paper; 8, turning it in; and 9 reflecting on your research process. Topic exploration comes after you have chosen a large topic area, but before you dive into your background research. Spending a bit of time learning about the various components of your topic can help you understand your topic better and save you time in the long run.


This short video will also explain the process to select a topic for a research assignment.


The websites below offer a variety of subject areas for you to explore for topics.

Topic exploration gives you a chance to learn a little about your topic before deciding on a final topic for your assignment. Use the questions below, or the Topic Exploration Worksheet to guide you in topic exploration.

What is your draft topic?

  1. What do you already know about your topic?
  2. What questions do you have about the topic? Think about the 5 Ws: who, what, where, when, why

Now is a great time to start a mind map with what you know and you'll add to it as you move through the next steps of exploration.

Exploration: Wikipedia

Find a Wikipedia* entry that is related to your topic

  1. What is the name of the entry?
  2. What are 3 important or interesting things about the topic?
  3. What are 2-3 keywords that describe your topic?

* Wikipedia is a great source for topic exploration - it has basic facts, background information and, often, a lot of references that will lead you to better sources. But it’s not appropriate to use it as a reference in your assignment.

More Exploration: Search Engine

Use your favorite search engine to find a website about your topic.

  1. What is the name of the website?
  2. What are 3 important or interesting things about the topic?
  3. What are 2-3 keywords that describe your topic?
  4. Based on what you learned, write down 2-3 possible subtopics that you want to investigate further

Final Topic

Once you have investigated your subtopics, choose one that you'd like to learn more about. Write a short description of the topic you will research.


When making your final selection for your topic, remember that this is something you will be learning more about for a few weeks to a few months. Make sure that you find it interesting and want to learn more about it.

At each step in the research process, your topic will continue to evolve. Topic exploration will take you through an evolution of your topic from a big idea to a smaller idea, and after some background research, a research question.