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Individual History Essay Topics

A common challenge when beginning to write a research paper is determining how to narrow down your topic. Even if your professor gives you a specific topic to study, it will almost never be so specific that you won’t have to narrow it down at least to some degree [besides, grading fifty papers that are all about the exact same thing is very boring!].

A topic is too broad to be manageable when you find that you have too many different, and oftentimes conflicting or only remotely related, ideas about how to investigate the research problem. Although you will want to start the writing process by considering a variety of different approaches to studying the research problem, you will need to narrow the focus of your investigation at some point early in the writing process. This way, you don't attempt to do too much in one paper.

Here are some strategies to help narrow your topic into something more manageable:

  • Aspect -- choose one lens through which to view the research problem, or look at just one facet of it [e.g., rather than studying the role of food in Eastern religious rituals, study the role of food in Hindu ceremonies, or, the role of one particular type of food among several religions].
  • Components -- determine if your initial variable or unit of analysis can be broken into smaller parts, which can then be analyzed more precisely [e.g., a study of tobacco use among adolescents can focus on just chewing tobacco rather than all forms of usage or, rather than adolescents in general, focus on female adolescents in a certain age range who choose to use tobacco].
  • Methodology -- the way in which you gather information can reduce the domain of interpretive analysis needed to address the research problem [e.g., a single case study can be designed to generate data that does not require as extensive an explanation as using multiple cases].
  • Place -- generally, the smaller the geographic unit of analysis, the more narrow the focus [e.g., rather than study trade relations in West Africa, study trade relations between Niger and Cameroon as a case study that helps to explain problems in the region].
  • Relationship -- ask yourself how do two or more different perspectives or variables relate to one another. Designing a study around the relationships between specific variables can help constrict the scope of analysis [e.g., cause/effect, compare/contrast, contemporary/historical, group/individual, male/female, opinion/reason, problem/solution].
  • Time -- the shorter the time period of the study, the more narrow the focus [e.g., study of trade relations between Niger and Cameroon during the period of 2010 - 2016].
  • Type -- focus your topic in terms of a specific type or class of people, places, or phenomena [e.g., a study of developing safer traffic patterns near schools can focus on SUVs, or just student drivers, or just the timing of traffic signals in the area].
  • Combination -- use two or more of the above strategies to focus your topic very narrowly.

NOTE: Apply one of the above strategies first to determine if that gives you a manageable research problem to investigate. You will know if the problem is manageable by reviewing the literature on this more specific problem and assessing whether prior research on the narrower topic is sufficient to move forward in your study [i.e., not too much, not too little]. Be careful, however, because combining multiple strategies risks creating the opposite problem--your problem becomes too narrowly defined and you can't locate enough research or data to support your study.


Booth, Wayne C. The Craft of Research. Fourth edition. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2016; Coming Up With Your Topic. Institute for Writing Rhetoric. Dartmouth College; Narrowing a Topic. Writing Center. University of Kansas; Narrowing Topics. Writing@CSU. Colorado State University; Strategies for Narrowing a Topic. University Libraries. Information Skills Modules. Virginia Tech University;The Process of Writing a Research Paper. Department of History. Trent University; Ways to Narrow Down a Topic. Contributing Authors. Utah State OpenCourseWare.

12.Examine two (or more) movies based on the same comic book character. Analyze the change in the character over the series, or examine the way two different actors and directors interpreted the character, motivations and plot (examples: Spiderman, X-Man, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Justice League, Superman).

13. Look at a romantic comedy. Analyze how this genre draws the audience into the story. What makes a romantic comedy effective? (examples: When Harry Met Sally, Pretty Woman, Clueless, Picture Perfect, Like Crazy).

14. Choose your favorite horror movie to examine. What makes this such a good horror film? Analyze what elements this movie has that creates the experience of horror in the audience (examples: The Exorcist, Sleepy Hollow, The Silence of the Lambs, The Shining, Halloween).

15. What makes a good summer movie? Examine one of your favorite summer movies, a classic, or a hit from last summer. Analyze what makes a movie good for a summer release? What are the audience expectations. How well does this movie match what the audience has come to expect? (examples: Do the Right Thing, Caddyshack, Jaws, (500) Days of Summer).

16. Pick a "dumb" comedy. While these sorts of movies don't generally hold up as classic literature, they can make us laugh and be fun to watch with a group of friends. However, there is a fine line between funny dumb and stupid dumb. Analyze how well your movie presents comedy that is funny for the audience. What makes a movie like this work? (examples: Ted, Bad Santa, The Cable Guy, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America, The Hangover).

17. Choose a movie that one The Best Picture award. Analyze what makes a movie the best of that year and one of the best of all time. Does your movie have features that most best pictures do? What makes it unique? If it was produced this year, would it win again? (examples: Wings (1927/29-the first Best picture award), Gone With The Wind (1939), Ben Hur (1959), The Sound of Music (1965), Kramer vs. Kramer (1979), The King's Speech (2001).

18. Choose a reality T.V. series: Analyze why people like these shows. Why are they so popular and what makes a reality T.V. show good or bad? Do these shows exploit the people who appear on them? Where should we draw the line? (examples: Toddlers and Tiaras, Biggest Loser, Survivor).

19. Choose a popular older T.V. sitcom. Research the current events happening at the time the show was produced. Analyze why the show was popular at that time. Did that shows humor last? Can audiences who watch it now still appreciate the humor? (examples: I Love Lucy, Cheers, M.A.S.H).

20. Examine a popular game show. Explain the history of the show. Analyze how the show works to make the game interesting not only for the contestants but also for the viewing audience. Was the key ingredient the set-up of the game show, the contestants, the host, the audience, viewer participation or some other factor? (examples: Let's Make Deal, Minute to Win it, Jeopardy).

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