Choosing an Historical Research Topic

Updated on January 13, 2018
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Rebecca Graf is a seasoned writer with nearly a decade of experience and degrees in accounting, history, and creative writing.

Writing an historical research paper can be stressful. It can be worse when the instructor requires you to choose the topic and create your own thesis statement. But not any topic will be acceptable. And it can't be too broad. Your topic has to be very specific.

Choosing your topic shouldn't be done on a whim. It needs to be carefully thought out. It needs to be deliberate. When you focus on finding the right topic, you'll be rewarded with a great paper and interesting writing.

Class Subject

This might sound a little obvious, but it is not always to everyone. We can let our imagination go too far. But when we are really struggling, start with your class topic and let that help direct you.

Let us say that you are taking a class on Ancient Greece. Just to write a paper on the history of Athens will not bring an A to the paper. This is a research paper that you are writing. A paper on the history of Athens is just a restatement of history. A research paper does much more than that. It goes into the history of it and explores it as it argues it. Plus, that topic is just way too broad.

Become a Detective

As you choose a topic, you need to take the hat of academic off and replace it with the hat of a detective. A research paper is to regurgitate what has said before. It is to explore a topic from a new angle while giving it credible support. It is to make a suggestion and go about proving how much water it can hold.

So, how do you choose an historical research paper topic? Look closely at the list your instructor provides you or at your textbook to help you generate ideas. Use them as a basis and think outside the box.

What Interests You?

Start with what interests you. There are some topics that we quickly shy away from. There are some topics that we want to know more about. Strike off those you dislike or are not comfortable with. See what is left on the list of possibilities. You could still have twenty or thirty possibilities. Now, you need to eliminate a few more.

Go down your list. Can you think of a theory on the first topic that you have and would love to research and prove? For example, maybe you firmly believe that the Greco-Persian wars were as long as they were due to Spartans inactivity in the beginning of the wars. Maybe you feel that the Spartans were the main ones responsible for the Peloponnesian War because of their unwillingness to be a part of the rest of Greece. Maybe you have a different take on the Battle of Thermopylae that no one has really looked at. Look at what is accepted and generally agreed upon and take a new angle or a different approach. Challenge what is accepted. Don't be afraid.You can find some great ideas simply by challenging what everyone agrees as 'fact.'

If you cannot think of something that you could propose and argue substantially with credible support, then strike that topic and move on. You might have five topics left. You need to get down to one. If you just cannot choose between the choices in front of you, now is the time to begin looking at the number of resources on the subject. If you cannot find more than two or three resources to put in your bibliography, then that topic should be struck even if you really like it. You want to have at least seven good sources available to you.

Remember that a research paper is not a regurgitation of facts. It is an exploration of an historical topic. It is you proving a theory.


Play Devil's Advocate

When you are writing a research paper, do not be afraid to play devil's advocate. Challenge beliefs. That can open up many doors of ideas for your paper. Even if you disagree with a stance, challenge yourself and write a paper supporting it. Ask what if kind of questions.

Read different books on the topic. That means you need to read those who support or are opposed to your topic. See where you can find something different to question the theories and look for evidence to support your thesis.

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