Research papers help students develop higher level thinking skills such as analysis, synthesis and evaluation. Creating a good research assignment is difficult. Getting your students interested in the project is especially challenging. You can meet that challenge by helping your students find a good topic and one that is fun.

Preliminary Considerations

Most students do not want to write a research paper. You can help students overcome their reluctance by understanding how they feel. Students think a research paper will be a lot work. That’s true. They think that writing a research paper takes a lot of skills, skills that they might not have. That’s true, too. If the assignment is a term paper, students worry about how the project will affect their grades. That’s reasonable.

Before you can get your students excited about doing a research paper by giving them fun topics to write about, you need to address their concerns. Make it clear (and make it true) that they will be working on the research project instead of, not in addition to, other assignments. Spend time teaching students the skills they need to succeed. Grade the project in stages. Instead of assigning one “make-or-break” grade to the paper, give students a chance to earn points toward the final grade by completing the interim steps.

Fun Topics

People have different ideas about what is and is not “fun.” One person enjoys looking at the stars through a telescope, another prefers seeing them through the lens of a Hollywood gossip show. You can discover how your students define fun by asking them. Have this discussion before you give the research assignment. Build some excitement by giving your students the opportunity to talk about the things they care about.

Start by asking open-ended questions about your students’ interests. How do they spend their time? Where do they like to go? What are they curious about? Ask your quietest student and your most extroverted student to record the answers on a white board or flip charts. You want everyone involved.

Record the list of interests for yourself and think about how general interests can be turned into research topics. Create general categories of interest; for example, sports, computer games, telephone technology, film/film stars and popular music. Define a well-crafted research topic for at least one interest in each category. Each example should be a topic that is broad enough to give students ample resources to explore, but narrow enough to be covered within the scope of the paper.

Now that you have some fun topics to suggest, discuss the research assignment with your students. They might not cheer, but most will realize that writing about “How CGI Has Affected Movie Making Economics” might be more interesting for them than analyzing the effects of industrial growth on the English novel. Explain how you went about turning a general area of interest into a viable research topic. Give students time to work in groups with the goal of identifying at least three possible topics for every student. Monitor their progress and coach them to ensure good results.