Research Paper Focus Questions For Causes

Do not assume that choosing a research problem to study will be a quick or easy task! You should be thinking about it at the start of the course. There are generally three ways you are asked to write about a research problem: 1) your professor provides you with a general topic from which you study a particular aspect; 2) your professor provides you with a list of possible topics to study and you choose a topic from that list; or, 3) your professor leaves it up to you to choose a topic and you only have to obtain permission to write about it before beginning your investigation. Here are some strategies for getting started for each scenario.


I.  How To Begin:  You are given the topic to write about

Step 1: Identify concepts and terms that make up the topic statement. For example, your professor wants the class to focus on the following research problem: “Is the European Union a credible security actor with the capacity to contribute to confronting global terrorism?" The main concepts is this problem are: European Union, global terrorism, credibility [hint: focus on identifying proper nouns, nouns or noun phrases, and action verbs in the assignment description].

Step 2: Review related literature to help refine how you will approach examining the topic and finding a way to analyze it. You can begin by doing any or all of the following: reading through background information from materials listed in your course syllabus; searching the USC Libraries Catalog to find a recent book on the topic and, if appropriate, more specialized works about the topic; conducting a preliminary review of the research literature using multidisciplinary library databases such as ProQuestt or subject-specific databases found here. Use the main concept terms you developed in Step 1 and their synonyms to retrieve relevant articles. This will help you refine and frame the scope of the research problem. Don’t be surprised if you need to do this several times before you finalize how to approach writing about the topic.

NOTE: Always review the references from your most relevant research results cited by the authors in footnotes, endnotes, or a bibliography to locate related research on your topic. This is a good strategy for identifying important prior research about the topic because titles that are repeatedly cited indicate their significance in laying a foundation for understanding the problem. However, if you’re having trouble at this point locating relevant research literature,ask a librarian for help!

ANOTHER NOTE:  If you find an article from a journal that's particularly helpful, put quotes around the title of the article and paste it into Google Scholar. If the article record appears, look for a "cited by" reference followed by a number. This link indicates how many times other researchers have subsequently cited that article since it was first published. This is an excellent strategy for identifying more current, related research on your topic. Finding additional cited by references from your original list of cited by references helps you navigate through the literature and, by so doing, understand the evolution of thought around a particular research problem.

Step 3: Since social science research papers are generally designed to get you to develop your own ideas and arguments, look for sources that can help broaden, modify, or strengthen your initial thoughts and arguments [for example, if you decide to argue that the European Union is ill prepared to take on responsibilities for broader global security because of the debt crisis in many EU countries, then focus on identifying sources that support as well as refute this position].

There are least four appropriate roles your related literature plays in helping you formulate how to begin your analysis:

  • Sources of criticism -- frequently, you'll find yourself reading materials that are relevant to your chosen topic, but you disagree with the author's position. Therefore, one way that you can use a source is to describe the counter-argument, provide evidence from your review of the literature as to why the prevailing argument is unsatisfactory, and to discuss how your own view is more appropriate based upon your interpretation of the evidence.
  • Sources of new ideas -- while a general goal in writing college research papers in the social sciences is to approach a research problem with some basic idea of what position you'd like to take and what grounds you'd like to stand upon, it is certainly acceptable [and often encouraged] to read the literature and extend, modify, and refine your own position in light of the ideas proposed by others. Just make sure that you cite the sources!
  • Sources for historical context -- another role your related literature plays in helping you formulate how to begin your analysis is to place issues and events in proper historical context. This can help to demonstrate familiarity with developments in relevant scholarship about your topic, provide a means of comparing historical versus contemporary issues and events, and identifying key people, places, and things that had an important role related to the research problem.
  • Sources of interdisciplinary insight -- an advantage of using databases like ProQuest to begin exploring your topic is that it covers publications from a variety of different disciplines. Another way to formulate how to study the topic is to look at it from different disciplinary perspectives. If the topic concerns immigration reform, for example, ask yourself, how do studies from sociological journals found by searching ProQuest vary in their analysis from those in law journals. A goal in reviewing related literature is to provide a means of approaching a topic from multiple perspectives rather than the perspective offered from just one discipline.

NOTE: Remember to keep careful notes at every stage or utilize a citation management system like EndNotes or RefWorks. You may think you'll remember what you have searched and where you found things, but it’s easy to forget or get confused.

Step 4: Assuming you've done an effective job of synthesizing and thinking about the results of our initial search for related literature, you're ready to prepare a detailed outline for your paper that lays the foundation for a more in-depth and focused review of relevant research literature [after consulting with a librarian, if needed!]. How will you know you haven't done an effective job of synthesizing and thinking about the results of our initial search for related literature? A good indication is that you start composing your paper outline and gaps appear in how you want to approach the study. This indicates the need to do further research on the research problem.


I.  How To Begin:  You are provided a list of possible topics to choose from

Step 1: I know what you’re thinking--which topic from this list my professor has given me will be the easiest to find the most information on? An effective instructor should never include a topic that is so obscure or complex that no research is available to examine and from which to begin to design a study. Instead of searching for the path of least resistance choose a topic that you find interesting in some way, or that is controversial and that you have a strong opinion about, or has some personal meaning for you. You're going to be working on your topic for quite some time, so choose one that you find interesting and engaging or that motivates you to take a position.

Once you’ve settled on a topic of interest from the list, follow Steps 1 - 4 listed above to further develop it into a research paper.

NOTE: It’s ok to review related literature to help refine how you will approach analyzing a topic, and then discover that the topic isn’t all that interesting to you. In that case, you can choose another from the list. Just don’t wait too long to make a switch and be sure to consult with your professor first that you are changing your topic.


III.  How To Begin:  Your professor leaves it up to you to choose a topic

Step 1: Under this scenario, the key process is turning an idea or general thought into a topic that can be configured into a research problem. When given an assignment where you choose the research topic, don't begin by thinking about what to write about, but rather, ask yourself the question, "What do I want to know?" Treat an open-ended assignment as an opportunity to learn about something that's new or exciting to you.

Step 2: If you lack ideas, or wish to gain focus, try some or all of the following strategies:

  • Review your course readings, particularly the suggested readings, for topic ideas. Don't just review what you've already read but jump ahead in the syllabus to readings that have not been covered yet.
  • Search the USC Libraries Catalog for a good, recently published book and, if appropriate, more specialized works related to the discipline area of the course [e.g., for the course SOCI 335, search for books on population and society].
  • Browse through some current journals in your subject discipline. Even if most of the articles are not relevant, you can skim through the contents quickly. You only need one to be the spark that begins the process of wanting to learn more about a topic. Consult with a librarian and/or your professor about the core journals within your subject discipline.
  • Think about essays you have written for past classes and other coursework you have taken or academic lectures and programs you have attended. Thinking back, what most interested you? What would you like to know more about?
  • Search online media sources, such as CNN, the Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, or Newsweek, to see if your idea has been covered by the media. Use this coverage to refine your idea into something that you'd like to investigate further but in a more deliberate, scholarly way based on a particular problem that needs to be researched.

Step 3: To build upon your initial idea, use the suggestions under this tab to help narrow, broaden, or increase the timeliness of your idea so you can write it out as a research problem.

Once you are comfortable with having turned your idea into a research problem, follow Steps 1 - 4 listed in Part I above to further develop it into a research paper.


Alderman, Jim. "Choosing a Research Topic." Beginning Library and Information Systems Strategies. Paper 17. Jacksonville, FL: University of North Florida Digital Commons, 2014; Alvesson, Mats and Jörgen Sandberg. Constructing Research Questions: Doing Interesting Research. London: Sage, 2013; Chapter 2: Choosing a Research Topic. Adrian R. Eley. Becoming a Successful Early Career Researcher. New York: Routledge, 2012; Answering the Question. Academic Skills Centre. University of Canberra; Brainstorming. Department of English Writing Guide. George Mason University; Brainstorming. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Chapter 1: Research and the Research Problem. Nicholas Walliman. Your Research Project: Designing and Planning Your Work. 3rd edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2011; Choosing a Topic. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University;  Coming Up With Your Topic. Institute for Writing Rhetoric. Dartmouth College; How To Write a Thesis Statement. Writing Tutorial Services, Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. Indiana University; Identify Your Question. Start Your Research. University Library, University of California, Santa Cruz; The Process of Writing a Research Paper. Department of History. Trent University; Trochim, William M.K. Problem Formulation. Research Methods Knowledge Base. 2006.

  • connor 2 weeks ago

    I love this site

  • unknow 2 weeks ago

    this will definitely will help me review for the act test

  • no one 2 weeks ago

    its cool

  • Unknown 2 weeks ago

    this helped my English class (6th grade) thanks Mrs.Wilborn!!

  • Unknown 7 weeks ago

    This seriously helped me with my essay/speech ideas!

    Thanks so much Letter Pile!

  • mn_heydari5038 2 months ago

    these topics are very fantastic. they helped me to write a great essay and, so these topics make writers to write a good essay more about cause and effect

  • Robbert Dillard 2 months ago

    This is very useful, I learned lots.

  • Jimmy 2 months ago

    Thanks this helped

  • Abbie 4 months ago

    This was extremely helpful! Thank you so much!!

  • Ashley 4 months ago

    Thanks for the great ideas to point me in the right direction for my next essay!

  • Lil 5 months ago

    This was great for me because I had to write an essay about some kind of topic with a cause and an effect and this website gave me some really good ideas, Thank You!

  • Virginia Kearney 9 months agofrom United States

    Sophia--I'm so glad that this helped you. I especially enjoy teaching Chinese students. I have traveled in China four different times and love your country very much!

  • Sophia 9 months ago

    I am a Chinese student and I think your sharing did help me a lot. Thank you !

  • domonique 12 months ago

    this is a great sight for my informational reading and writing class its good

  • Hooriya 12 months ago

    Hi thanks for helping me

  • deeksha 17 months ago

    these topics are really good.. i used some of these topics for my projects and got great marks.. i got A+ in all my projects , i am in 7th grade....

  • Sourav Rana 23 months ago

    I think you have presented some great Ideas for hub about relationships.

  • Hugh Johnson 24 months ago

    These topics had a BIG impact on my life. Thanks for your LARGE ammount of tips.

  • John 24 months ago

    These topics really helped me for school

  • Ruby 24 months agofrom United States

    Creative idea for a hub, what was your case and effect for making it lol

  • BOB 2 years ago

    WOW this is super great to look up stuff for an assignment.

  • Joe 2 years ago

    Awesome topics thanks a million

  • Dwight Goliday Jr 2 years agofrom East Saint Louis

    Wow. There are a lot things that cause and effect. Very informative write.

  • Virginia Kearney 2 years agofrom United States

    Thanks Zakeycia and YoLex. My students have come up with most of these topics through the years and now this is my most visited article so they must have done a good job! I think it got over 2000 views one day last week!

  • YoLex 2 years ago

    This is awesome I wish I'd found this hub before I graduated college lol! Great work!

  • Zakeycia Dickens 2 years ago

    I have a cause and effect essay to type for my English class. I was having a hard time coming up with a topic. Your website and topic suggestions were very helpful. Thank you.

  • Rasheedah Abdul-Hakeem 2 years ago

    Thanks. Great topics.

  • James Packard 3 years agofrom Columbia, Missouri

    What a great hub! Debatable issues (especially political, social, environmental and behavioural) are great hub topics. They are good to write about to do research and clear up one's own viewpoint, but they also get people talking, and also spark very needed discussion. Thanks for sharing.

  • Liza Treadwell Esq aka Liza Lugo JD 3 years agofrom New York, NY

    I love this one, VirginiaLynne. Your hubs are so valuable to students and professional writers. Cause and effect papers are among the most interesting to read.

    I voted this hub "up," "useful," and "interesting." I am bookmarking this hub for future reference. I know I'll be using it! Keep up the excellent work here.

  • Marilyn L Davis 3 years agofrom Georgia

    Good afternoon, Virginia; excellent examples for all categories. Well done. ~Marilyn

  • Virginia Kearney 3 years agofrom United States

    Here is another place to look for topic ideas: https://owlcation.com/humanities/Causal-Analysis-E...

  • Virginia Kearney 3 years agofrom United States

    Hi Gertrude--These two words are ones that are often confused. Affect also means "to produce an effect upon" as well as "to influence." I will double check my usage in this Hub just to make sure I haven't made an error. Thanks!

  • Gertrude McFuzz 3 years ago

    These are great topics. I just have one comment. Sometimes you use "effect" when you should use "affect."

    affect = influence - usually a verb

    effect= result - usually a noun

    effect= cause - not used that often - verb

  • Shamim Rajabali 3 years agofrom Texas

    This will come in handy for my English class. Thanks.

  • ANCY 3 years ago

    I Love it very much

  • rakesh ranjana 3 years ago

    Social causes are growing up in lot more ways, knowing it and having a knowledge about it through this site, will help a lot in many ways for people to understand there relationship and social problems

  • MariaBrown 4 years ago

    Great hub! I like your ideas, it is something different & innovative. Vote up!

  • DjeLke 4 years ago

    Thanks! This is helpful.... Vote up.

  • Virginia Kearney 4 years agofrom United States

    Sumnerswett--I teach MLA format because that is used by most American colleges in their English departments. However, you are very right to point out that APA and Chicago and other formats are used in different types of courses. I think considering cause and effect is sometimes a bit confusing because it depends on where you view the start of the situation. Often a cause creates an effect, which causes another situation. Sometimes it is hard to pull them apart. That is why I usually like to call this a "speculating about causes" essay, because we can't always definitively determine the absolute cause, but we can always speculate and argue for the most important causes, or the most important effects that we see in a situation.

  • Sumner Swett 4 years agofrom Owls Head Maine

    Okay so cause and effect essays are written in different formats, but let me say in my college profession for the essays to be written were to be in APA format, and it is interesting when researching and writing whether it is from information you have researched or if it free lance. I like to research topics before writing and also note taking is effective. The cause is what causes the situation and the effect is what you have to take into consideration to the cause as we all know it.

  • Kimberly Lake 4 years agofrom California

    Great topics! Voted up and shared.

  • Virginia Kearney 4 years agofrom United States

    Leidy--That is a great essay topic. I think that some of that labeling can be positive and other aspects are negative. It can encourage students to believe that they are capable, but it can discourage them by making them think that they don't need to work hard, or that if they don't achieve a high grade on everything, they have failed.

  • Seth Tomko 4 years agofrom Macon, GA

    A good and diverse collection of topics. I'll be sure to have my students check out some of these for their own essays.

  • Annie Miller 4 years agofrom Wichita Falls, Texas

    Very interesting and in depth Hub. I am passing this along and saving it, as well!

  • Chris Achilleos 4 years ago

    Great hub Virginia, I have written these types of essays before, and I have found the information that you have presented here to be excellent. Thank you for sharing. Voted up and useful!

    Chris Achilleos

  • Virginia Kearney 4 years agofrom United States

    Thanks so much Carol! You are always an encouragement.

  • carol stanley 4 years agofrom Arizona

    This is something to save when trying to come up with new writing ideas. Great hub...Going to pass this along and of course vote up.

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