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Research Topics in English Literature

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I have had a lifelong passion for reading and writing and graduated with a bachelor's in English literature.

Ideas for Writing Papers

Research topics on English literature initially start off broad and then narrow down and you come up with your thesis. Using any of the research topics listed to the left (gender, comparisons, historical background, politics, and religion) can take you almost anywhere. Choose your general topic based on the literature class you're writing for. If it's a class focused on gender, start there and then branch out to something like my example of how the roles of men and women are portrayed.

Knowing first your general topic and then what kind of essay or paper you're researching for (argumentative, persuasive, etc.) can help you decide what to do with it next when it comes to narrowing it down. Remember this isn't concrete. Your topic can grow and completely change as you research. Choosing the literature topic is just the key to getting started.

Finding and researching a good topic in English literature takes time and patience.

Finding and researching a good topic in English literature takes time and patience.

Topics for English Literature Research Essays

When it comes to English literature, there's no end to the topics that you can research for that novel or other piece that you've been reading. The easiest way to get an idea for that next research topic on English literature for your essay is to start broad and then work toward making it more specific and interesting for your readers. Here are a few examples of research topics in literature to get you started (for a more extensive list of research topics in literature, please check out the link that can be found at the bottom of this article):

1. Gender roles

How are the roles of men and women portrayed in the novel? Are they distinctly different? Do they have equal rights? What gender expectations do they follow or fight against?

2. Comparisons between genres

How does each genre tell its story? What are the differences and similarities between the two? Is one more effective than the other?

3. Historical background

Who is the author and what is their story? Were there controversies associated with them or their work? What is the significance of this novel in the time it was written? How does it reflect the society and beliefs of its time?

4. Politics

What issues in politics does this novel address? Discrimination? Rights? Equality?

5. Religion

How is this novel religious? What beliefs is it promoting or questioning?

6. Comparisons between two characters

This can be between characters in the same novel or two different ones. How are their differences and similarities important to the novel?

7. Comparisons between two novels

If the novels seem completely different but represent the same genre or come from the same time period, this may be something you want to explore.

8. Allusions within the novel

What are some significant allusions within the novel? These could be religious, refer to other novels or authors, etc. How is this important to understanding the novel and its place in English literature?

9. Criticism

What are some of the most notable criticisms out there? What is your response and how does it compare to other critics out there?

10. Symbolism

What are important symbols in the novel? How are they significant?

English Literature Research Projects

The following can also be used for any other type of research project for English Literature where you need to find your own topic.

Researching for an English Literature essay can be tough but finding a topic you are really interested in helps make it easier.

Researching for an English Literature essay can be tough but finding a topic you are really interested in helps make it easier.

How to Find an English Topic to Research for Any Project

So, you’ve finally made it to your last year at your university and you’ve got one last thing to do before you leave: the dreaded Capstone Project. Have no fear; although it is time-consuming and stressful work, it is possible to turn all that work into something fun, as long as you choose the right topic in English literature to write about. The key to going out with a bang with a fantastic Capstone is to choose something you actually care about.

Of all the aspects of this project, choosing the right research topic is absolutely key. Choose the wrong one, and you may not meet the requirements or, worse, you may dislike it enough to have to change it halfway through the class. For the first time in four years, teachers are giving you the reins and having you decide what you want to write about. No more prompts telling you what to do, except for the guidelines for your project, and no more focusing on one aspect of a novel that the prof tells you to.

So don’t freak out, think of it as the best part of your university experience yet. Now’s the time to show your stuff and let everyone see how much of a successful English literature nerd you’ve turned out to be. If you can do it yourself, you’ve proved yourself worthy of that snazzy degree they’re about to hand you in a couple months. Of course if you’ve made it to this point, there’s no way you’re not worthy.

Example of a Researched Essay in English Literature

My Capstone class was titled “The Age of Novels” and focused on the rise of the novel during the eighteenth century. Basically, we looked at how the novel developed into what we see as a novel today, considering how writers presented and executed their works of fiction, who influenced them, and how they influenced others. We also looked at literary techniques such as psychological realism and the differing roles of men and women in the formation of this most popular form of writing.

My class was focused on topics such as psychological realism and gender roles so this is something that I kept in the back of my mind as I read through the novel I chose to research.

How to Get Started on an English Literature Paper

I’m going to use my own experience in the Capstone Project as an example of how to choose a research topic in English literature.

I know your Capstone won’t be on the same topic, but it’s still important to know the basic focus of the class in order to get to your literature research topic. Look at the prompt for your English class and see what sticks out to you.

After reading through the required reading in my class, I decided to veer away from novels of formal realism and go into the Gothic realm with M.G. Lewis’s The Monk, which was completely unexplored in the class. Not only do I love Gothic literature, but this was a great way for me to draw comparisons with the books of the same period without doing the same old thing we were doing in the classroom. I was killing two birds with one stone, as they say; getting to read a novel in the genre I’m most interested in while still exploring the same prompts the class was focused on.

Sometimes, if you're stuck on an English literature research topic, starting at a completely new angle can help you find something really interesting to work on. After you get to know the ins and outs of what your class is about, it's easy to go off in another direction and work your way back into what you've been learning about. This journey can bring you into a whole new realm of possibilities to research.

Brainstorming ideas while researching topics in English Literature

Brainstorming ideas while researching topics in English Literature

How to Brainstorm Writing Ideas for Essays

Now, as you read the book of your choice (or your professor's), focus on one or more aspects of your English Literature class prompt so that your research topic relates to the actual class you’re taking. I decided to focus on chastity within the novel and how the gothic novel portrays male and female chastity versus the novels of formal realism. This English literature research topic took a lot of work to get to. Don't be afraid of setbacks or having to start over.

The best way initially is to write down a broad topic to research and then list any information relevant to that topic. It doesn’t matter how insignificant the piece of information may seem, list it. Then go through and see what interesting conclusions you can make from the information. Looking at gender, how are males portrayed versus females? Looking at genre, how is the gothic novel different from a formal realism novel?

Putting things out on paper is the best way to get it all out in the open and free your mind that’s jumbled with information. Once it's on paper, you can actually look at it all and piece it all into one neat picture (through words of course) that anyone can understand. Without doing this, it’s like trying to put together a puzzle with all of the pieces turned down, so you aren’t sure which ones actually go together.

Ideas on Getting a Research Topic

If the brainstorming step doesn't work for you, just write down any questions you have about the novel. If you noticed that there were a lot of religious references and ideas in the novel, maybe you'd be curious to know the author's biography and see how that plays a significant role in the piece. For my own example, I could have asked myself "What is gothic" or "How did eighteenth-century England define chastity?" After this brief research, go back through your notes and see if you can come up with an interesting topic you can do further research on for that English literature essay.

Tips for Researching Topics on English Literature

Looking at what you’ve put together in your brainstorm, it’s easy to see where you need to do research on the novel. No one wants a paper full of generalizations so take each topic you can't automatically define and start researching it. Do you know how to define gothic or formal realism? Research it. What were the gender expectations for this time? Research it. You want to go as in depth into your topic as possible, which involves even more research than reading two or three novels.

It also doesn’t help to learn some background on the author. Were they a rebel or a strict conservative? Was this novel popular? How did it affect the readers of its time? For example, Lewis was actually brought to court for The Monk because it was seen as a bad influence on his female readers. This is something not only interesting but relevant to the topic of female chastity in my chosen English literature research topic for my essay.

Doing some background research on the novel like this can bring ideas together into a thesis for your paper and lead you in a solid direction for your actual research for your paper. If you haven’t finally figured something out by this point, you may have to consult your professor.

Outline of an Example for an English Research Essay

Thesis: Lewis’s novel completely undoes the plots, tropes, and principles of Richardson and Fielding’s formal realism, not only through its use of superstition and other Gothic elements, but also in the development and resolution of each of these character’s stories. Instead of providing a positive example, The Monk gives a horrifying one to instill fear in its readership to preserve the same virtue.

1. What is a gothic novel?

2. Pamela Andrews

3. Joseph Andrews

4. What is formal realism?

5. What is a gothic novel?

6. Gothic novel versus formal realism

7. Ambrosio

8. Joseph Andrews

9. Antonia

10. Pamela Andrews

How Do You Know It's a Good Research Topic on English Literature?

Test it with an outline.

If you aren’t sure you’ve got the right topic to come up with a 20-some-odd-page essay, outline what you’ve got so far. I like to do a very basic outline, starting with my thesis (in its rough draft form of course) at the very top. Next, I write what each paragraph will be about. If it’s a 20-page paper, you may write about two to three paragraphs a page so you will need to have at least 10 paragraphs.

Knowing what each paragraph is supposed to be about makes writing their topic sentences a little easier. Sometimes you may find that a research topic is broad enough to be able to split into two paragraphs, this is handy if you couldn’t initially list at least ten topics. For example, just saying Pamela Andrews for one of my paragraph topics doesn't cover what I want to say. I may just give a brief overview of her character or provide why her character is significant to formal realism.

Example of a research topic turning into a topic sentence:

1. What is a gothic novel?

“It is important, when studying this novel, to examine what defines a Gothic novel in relation to eighteenth-century definitions of novel-writing.”

This leads to questions of “why is this important?” and, of course, “what is Gothic?” which brings you into the paragraph and gives you the first two major points you need to cover.

Just remember that the key to choosing a research topic for English literature is to start broad. Read the novel and remember to focus on your own class's focus or on whatever interests you most. From there, you can branch out to almost any research topic, it just takes some work to get there.

© 2012 Lisa


Salma khatun on August 20, 2020:

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Abdul Rauf on April 20, 2020:

Please suggest me a topic for my m.phil thesis ( English literature)

Abdullah Shah on March 22, 2020:

A very useful content for young researchers.

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Please select for topic English teaching in primary schools

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I want to Research in Pakistani Novel by mohsin hamid

Numra on January 09, 2020:

Please suggest me some appropriate topics in English literature for my Masters research.

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I need a suitable topic for the novel THE DARK ROOM as by xomparing the theme written by Rk narayan

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Can u suggest a topic for my project

saira on October 27, 2019:

kindly suggest me a topic for my MPhil English lit thesis. i am interested in postcolonialism theory

Debbie on October 22, 2019:

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Pls I need a project topic on thriller literature

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sir i want ur concern about selecting my thesis topic kindly guaid me about selecting my research topic

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I need any topic from American or British literature for my M.A project .plz help me .novel want to be easy.

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Tasawar on September 13, 2019:

Can u suggest a topic for research

Assane Faye on July 30, 2019:

Hey there! I find it very good and interesting.

Then can anybody suggest me a topic for my master degree?

I'm the dire need of that.

Sopuru Sopuru on July 18, 2019:

Please I need a suitable project topic to disapprove Okonkwo as a hero in Things Fall Apart as portrayed by Achebe

Sopuru Sopuru on July 18, 2019:

I wish to disagree with Achebe in Things Fall Apart that Okonkwo is a Hero. Could you please give me a suitable project topic for it?

bhava on June 04, 2019:

can u suggest a topic for my thesis

Jai Shree Bharati on May 30, 2019:

I have done bachelor's in English and then MBA... Can I do PhD in English?

Anagha on May 22, 2019:

Can you please suggest a topic for me

Jahanzaib on May 19, 2019:

Plz give tell me the initial stage of topic and research topic

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CY RA on May 09, 2019:

Hi i need a topic for Research paper in english literature.kindly suggest me.

mgijimi on April 24, 2019:

I'm doing my thesis for my masters. I need help to rephrase my research topic below :

Mobile Banking application is the most preferred mode of banking compared to Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) banking in Gauteng

Hamda on April 05, 2019:

I need a topic of didactic please

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may you suggest for me a topic in literature that I may carry out a research on it.

Summikhan on March 03, 2019:

Please suggest me some appropriate topics in English literature for my Masters research

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I want material about the unyielding clamor of the night

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Please suggest a topic for project in English literature...

Anarkali Nishad on January 15, 2019:

I am lost over what to research on for my PhD research. My area of interests are 'concept of terror and horror', 'study of feminine space in novels', 'pschoanalysis'. From here i dont know how to proceed. It would be of great help if you could suggest any work or topic that i could look into.

Rana Bilal on January 11, 2019:

Suggest for me a topic in literature

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I need your help in chosing topic

Thanks a lot

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Please suggested to me some topics in english literature and criticism for my phd research.

Sruthi on December 07, 2018:

Can u please help me to write a project? My novel is The Edible Woman,and the theory is ecofeminism

Mani on December 06, 2018:

I read the novel "the great divorce" I am enthusiastic to in fantasy. How can I form the topic help me please

Ken on November 27, 2018:

Suggest for me a topic in literature

Sulae on November 20, 2018:


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Nermin on October 26, 2018:

Hello, Can you help me to find a topic in english teaching, I need it for my research papper that I have to do

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can you please help me find a topic for my thesis in English literature?

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Plz suggest me a topic for my thesis(MA english literature)

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Respected sir please suggest me a topic for my research in English lit

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SAM on August 18, 2018:

Which topic is better for research of MA English please suggest any topic

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George Orwell's animal equality and freedom

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Respected Sir! I needdon't your help regarding selection of thesis topic which should be unique and based on contemporary work.

Thanking in anticipation

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I want some topics in Indian writing in English

Victoria on June 14, 2018:

Please I need a topic to write on (to be published in a journal). Can you help with that? Thank you

soma on May 12, 2018:

please suggest me which recent novels i can research in the field of gender studies

Shahab on April 17, 2018:

need research topic in the novel for MA English

R.lavanya on March 05, 2018:

Iam doing my m.phil in english i need to select the topic for my thesis so kindly help me to find a topic

Asghar on March 04, 2018:

hello every body,

Can anybody suggest me a topic for my PhD dissertation in English literature.My aim is to connect literature to education.A topic which can cover the literature and education area.

I appreciate your help.


Krishna on February 23, 2018:

Dear mam ..I want to work on postcolonial studies in PhD English literature..please suggest me any good topic on the above...

Thank you

SHYAMALA B on February 22, 2018:

I need research about comparison between two characters

nishra shaikh on February 16, 2018:

Plz suggest me any better English Literature topics for my thesis

sokayna on February 15, 2018:

Thank you so much

well I already choose my topic but my prof said that it's too broad and large to write a research project, so I changed it but I did not find yet a topic , I choose I novel (hard times by Charles dickens , but I do not know what is the suitable topic .. can you help please

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Plz suggest me any better English Literature topics for my thesis

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zia on January 25, 2018:

Looking for a topic like seven deadly sins

Junroy on November 11, 2017:

What would be nice topic for my literary research in literature?

vanessa on October 31, 2017:

suggest any topic about feminism for my thesis plz

Saima on October 01, 2017:

I need a good and easy topic for my synopsis in English literature please help me any one

Ali on September 30, 2017:

I need a topic for english teaching monograph. If could help me please find me a best topic which has more sources of information.

shah zaib yousafzai on August 24, 2017:

Helpful information to write a research paper.

zoya khan on August 19, 2017:

I want to slect symbolism in tale of two cities by Charles Dickens.

But couldn't find out the exact statement. .

Can you help me plz

humaira on August 01, 2017:

very informative it help me a lot of selecting an topic for my master proposal article thanks you so much

Dhruvi on July 04, 2017:

Plz suggest any topic about English literature for my project

fhet on June 24, 2017:

any good topic about the difficulties of students in English subject?

arizkhan on May 26, 2017:

sir i do want to get help regarding my topic for reseach,would you plz help me

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I need a good and easy topic for my synopsis in English literature plzzzx help me any one

Nihad on April 09, 2017:

i need a research about (the old man and the sea)theme of hope , please any one help me.

khalidmehmood on March 31, 2017:

please help to suggest the topic about english literature,, i want to write a thesis .

zahra ben on March 18, 2017:

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Carolinrini on January 17, 2017:

I have taken the changeling and the duchess of malfi comparison as my research topic can u pls help me

nahan on September 25, 2016:

Really useful and genuine

Vijaya on June 05, 2016:

I need a current topic for research in English Language rather than Literature.

H on May 29, 2016:

I need a good topic on Literature. Please help me anyone..