Research Essay and Paper Topics to Engage and Impress

No one ever said writing a research paper was fun or easy. In fact, students from high school through graduate programs hunker down every semester to craft them for instructors and professors who have high expectations. And within the general range of a specific course, students usually have options for topic choices.

And this is where the first challenge begins – choosing a topic that will be a bit different from those instructors read every semester; perhaps taking on controversial topics in an argumentative way; maybe adding a new perspective to a common topic. Selecting the topic, in fact, can be the key first step in engaging and impressing your reader (instructor), and that in itself can increase your chances of a better grade.

So, let’s take a look at some topics that will pique your interest, make creating that essay or paper less of a nasty chore, and that will engage and delight your instructor. The topics are divided into general categories that will relate to coursework in which you may be enrolled – now or in the future. Certainly, you do not have to rad the entire list right now. But save it, so that when you are in specific course, you can look at these topic ideas and get your brain activated.

Sociology

Here’s the thing about topics that relate to the human condition and society in general. They are perfect for that one required sociology course you may take, but they can also “bleed” over into other courses – politics, government, history, psychology, marketing, and economics. So, as you look at these topics, think about how they might apply to other coursework.

  1. Teenage Pregnancy: this is a “tired” topic. But how about taking a different perspective? Teen pregnancy has been the subject of high school journalism students, as they publish their newspapers. And published articles on the topic landed two school districts in court, as school principals sought to impose censorship by cutting the articles and were sued by their journalism students. Research the Tinker vs. Des Moines and the Kuhlmeier vs. Hazelwood East decisions of the Supreme Court. They became a legal issue regarding First Amendment Rights.
  2. Euthanasia: The right to die. A lot of civilizations throughout history have embraced euthanasia. What is the history of this practice in these civilizations? Today, six states and the District of Columbia have legalized assisted suicide. How is this different from earlier euthanasia practices? What are the moral arguments for and against assisted suicide?
  3. Racism in America: the US. has a long history of racism – originally against African-Americans, but broadening to discrimination against immigrants from Ireland, Eastern Europe, and Asia. Today, racism is still a real issue. How has the current divisive political climate contributed to a increase in overt racist activities?
  4. Impact of Social Networking on Society: Many claim that the advent of social media has transformed the way in which people establish relationships. Less face-to-face and more web-based relationship building is an obvious trend. What research on this phenomenon is currently conducted and what are the implications of that research for society?
  5. Feminism: Voters in 2018 elected more women into Congressional seats than ever before. How is this a reflection of feminism, and what does this mean for the future political climate?
  6. Gay Marriage: What are the prevailing arguments for and against gay marriage?
  7. Gender Roles and Stereotypes: The traditional male/female gender roles have exploded. What implications does this have for marriage, family, and child rearing?

If none of these sparks an interest, here are several other topics:

  1. How has consumer behavior changed since the advent of e-commerce?
  2. How do millennials perceive their ideal work environment?
  3.  What are the most common behavioral issues in schools?
  4.  Why is there such a high rate of recidivism in the prison system?
  5.  How has employment of the disabled changed in the past 10 years?
  6.  Choosing not get married: why are so many couples not tying the knot?

Psychology

  1. Depression is on the rise in modern societies. What does the research say are the causes of increase in this disorder?
  2. Autism is a relatively new condition I the history of psychology. What alternative treatments have shown some success?
  3. ADHD is a diagnosis on the increase, as is the use of medications to treat it. Are we over-diagnosing this condition?
  4. Child Development and Attachment Theory is an interesting field of psychology. How does this relate to “reactive detachment disorder” that appears to be common among adopted children?
  5. PTSD: This is not just a condition experienced by servicemen returning from war. What are common non-military causes of PTSD and should treatments for both types be the same?

Here are some other options:

  1. What is cognitive behavioral therapy and does it work?
  2. What psychological triggers do advertisers use?
  3. Common phobias and treatments
  4. Dream Interpretation
  5.  False Memories
  6.  Why do bullies bully?
  7.   The Stanford Prison Experiment
  8.  Psychological aspects of aging

Medical/Health

  1. Sexually Transmitted Diseases: Here is a topic that crosses over health and sociology. What behaviors on the part of young people are contributing to the increases in STD’s? There is also an increase among older American. Why is that, according to research?
  2. Breast Cancer: This is most often considered a female disease. What is the incidence of breast cancer among males compared to that of females and what is the mortality rate of both sexes?
  3. Stem Cell Research: provide a historical and scientific overview of stem cell research. Why has more progress been made in countries other than in the U.S. What are the moral arguments against stem cell research and how can they be countered?
  4. Childhood Obesity: Discuss the most popular reasons for childhood obesity – fast food and sedentary lifestyles. Add to these the lesser reported cause such as parental fear of allowing children to play outside on their own.
  5. Serial Killers: What makes a serial killer? This has been the subject of reams of research, studying the psychological make up of people like Ted Bundy, America’s most notorious serial killer. You can pick one psychological aspect, such as childhood development, adolescence, social behaviors, etc.
  6. Dangers of Contact Sports: Traumatic brain injury. This is the most recent topic of concern for those involved in sports like football and boxing. When

Aaron Hernandez, football player for the New England Patriots, was convicted of murder and then hanged himself in his cell, many speculated that he had suffered from this condition. Inn fact, Boston University researchers are studying his brain. What are national sports organizations doing to reduce the dangers of head injuries? What other national sports figures might have suffered from this type of injury?

Here are some additional topics that may be of interest:

  1. How have artificial intelligence and machine learning changed healthcare delivery?
  2. What new developments in transplant surgery now decrease body rejection of the new organ?
  3. What are the potential health risks of consuming genetically-modified foods? Or are there any?
  4.  What are the security issues of electronic health records?
  5.  Pros and cons of vegetarianism?
  6.  Take a stand on “Medicare for All” and defend it

Government/Political Science

  1. Censorship: Research the Tinker and Hazelwood East Supreme Court cases. What First Amendment Rights should student journalists have vs. rights of school administrators to review and censor what is published in student newspapers?
  2. Cesar Chavez and Nelson Mandela: Both of these historical figures were champions of rights for different minorities in very different countries. Compare and contrast their tactics and the success of those tactics.
  3. Lowering the Drinking Age: There are valid arguments for lowering the drinking age from 21 to 18, among them the fact that 18-year olds serve in our military services. What are the arguments opposing such an action? Should this be a national law or reserved to states?
  4. Gun Control: American do have love affairs with their guns. And current interpretations of the Second Amendment support those love affairs. Compare the U.S. gun environment with those of other countries and the research on violent crimes/mass killings in comparison? How does the influence of the NRA affect gun control laws?
  5. Terrorism: Since the 9/11 Trade Center attacks, our government has become obsessed with a “war on terror.” How successful has this “war” been? What impact has discrimination against Muslims in the U.S. had on efforts to uncover terrorist plots?
  6. Civil Rights: A never-ending and pretty “tired” topic. If you choose historical or current civil rights movement activities, try to find a less common topic – perhaps the controversy over affirmative action on university campuses.
  7. Legalizing Marijuana: Another really common and overworked topic. Again, finding a new angle for research on the topic of marijuana. How is it different from other “hard” drugs? How could it be an economic boon for financially strapped states? What are the politics of legalization?
  8. Human Trafficking: This is an issue that has only surfaced in recent years, although it is almost as old as humanity. A great research topic would be to compare the “selling” of daughters in many historical and current cultures, contrasting it with the type of human trafficking that occurs as criminal activity today.
  9. Special Interests in Politics: A political commentator recently stated that all politicians should wear jackets like Nascar drivers, sporting badges of all companies sponsoring them. Researching what large businesses, interest groups, and other organizations (e.g., NRA) provide campaign funds can be a real eye opener, even for an instructor reading the paper.

Additional topics you may consider:

  1.  Immigration Reform: What are the solutions?
  2.  Health Costs: How have lobbyists for insurance and drug companies influenced legislators?
  3.  Term Limits: Should there be term limits on members of Congress?
  4.  Should the U.S. be the “policeman” of the world?
  5.  Federal judges are appointed for life – is this wise?
  6.  What types of election reforms should be instituted?
  7. Is the electoral college out of date?

History

  1. The Holocaust: Most history instructors have read innumerable papers on the Holocaust. Still, there are angles that are more unique and less chosen as topics. What role did the Holocaust play in the establishment of the nation of Israel? What heroes were there among Germans who helped Jews escape? Research cases of Jewish resistance during this terrible time.
  2. The Civil War: Again, there are no lack of research papers on the Civil War that students craft every semester – the causes, the battles, the outcomes, etc. Again, you will need to find a topic that is more unique. The economics of the Civil War provide interesting insights. For example, while most state that slavery was the main cause of the War, the facts may show that slavery was actually on the way out, given the rise of machines.
  3. The Cold War: Anther common topic, but one with plenty of sub-topics worthy of research. You can hone in on specific major events – the Berlin Wall, the Cuban Missile Crisis, for example, or more general themes. How did the Cold War and ensuing “Red Scare” in the U.S. result in the era known as McCarthyism? Given the intervention of Russia into current U.S. elections, has the Cold War really ended, or is it just entering a new phase based upon technology?
  4. Vietnam: The Vietnam war can be seen as an example of the Cold War becoming “hot.” This period in our history was fraught with internal dissension about our involvement, about our use of chemical warfare (e.g., napalm), and about our reasons for being there (rich people sending poor people to fight, in order to become richer). Any of these topics will provide opportunity to produce an argumentative research paper
  5. U.S. Involvement in the Middle East: It has been said that if the Middle East produced broccoli, the U.S. would not be involved in the continual unrest and warfare in the Middle East. This could be a thesis statement about U.S. hypocrisy regarding its presence in foreign regions. While we purport to being committed to democracy, human rights, etc., we are willing to ignore the violations of human rights on the part of governments, such as Saudi Arabia, when our economic interests are involved.

Here are additional potential topics:

  1. The Cuban Missile Crisis
  2. Impact of Martin Luther King assassination on the American black community
  3. Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath: Opinion on the government’s response
  4.  Impact of the French Revolution on the rest of Europe
  5.  Compare and contrast the Crusades and Jihad
  6.  The historical power of the Pope
  7.  Child labor and why it really came to an end
  8.  In the name of Christianity: The Spanish Inquisition
  9.  The Caste System in India – is it on its way out
  10.  The one-child policy in China – why has it been lifted?
  11.  Globalism vs. nationalism

Science

Research essays and papers in areas of hard science (e.g., biology, chemistry, physics) either involve studying the research of others in specific topic areas, or conducting research projects and then writing them up, or both. And many topics can cross over between the sciences. Consider, for example, the interdependence of biology, chemistry and physics on topics related to the environment:

  1. Climate Changes Over the Past 3 Decades: These topics will include everything from warming of ocean waters, to melting artic ice, to the impact of warming on marine life, to weather changes, and more. There is even research in the area of physics that is now developing predictive models for artic ice reduction.
  1. Climate Change Hoax Arguments: Despite the scientific evidence, there are those who believe that climate change is a hoax. What are their arguments, and can you refute them with factual data?
  1. Alternative Energy Sources: this topic is not especially unique; however, it is interesting that many states have imposed severe restrictions on their implementation. Research the reasons for this.
  1. Threat of Water Wars: With the decreasing amounts of drinking water in many parts of the world, what are the prospects that the predictions of “water wars” will occur at some point in the future?
  1. Methods of Increasing Water Supply through Chemistry: Chemical researchers are working on methods of converting salt water to potable water. What are the methods currently under experimentation and which seem most viable?
  1. Gene Manipulation: There is great promise in genetic science, but some has raised questions of ethics. Research the concept of “designer babies,” and take a stand pro or con.
  1. Alternative Fuels: Given our dependence upon fossil fuels, and the damage they cause to the environment, scientists are experimenting with alternatives to oil particularly the development of car fuels from such products as corn, oil, and even algae. Research the progress being made, and the predictions being made for potential successes.

Here are some other potential topics:

  1. What are the most recent advances in nuclear medicine?
  2. Arguments for and against genetically-modified foods
  3.  How can we protect groundwater?
  4. What is the purpose of atom-smashing and what have physicists learned from it?
  5.  What advancements have been made in body part replacements, especially arms and eggs?
  6.  What are the benefits of remote IoT health monitoring devices?
  7.  How are artificial intelligence and machine learning impacting cybersecurity?

Art and Literature

The arts and literature are an ocean of potential research topics, even though many believe this is not the case. After all, once a piece of art is finished; once a piece of music has been composed; once a story has been written, what is there to research? The lives of the creators perhaps? Actually, much more.

  1. Art as a Reflection of the Times: Art, music, and literature are all divided into time periods (eras) for a reason. The Baroque and classical periods in music, for example, reflected very structured style, melodies, and rhythms. And that was exactly how society was in Europe during those times – strict class structures, nobility and kings who ruled autocratically, etc. Pick a period of music, art or literature, and demonstrate how the creations depicted the times in which the artists lived.
  2. Political/Social Comment in Literature: There are a lot of pieces of literature that make political comments. From Alice through the Looking Glass to more modern works, such as George Orwell’s 1984 or Animal Farm, up to Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s, The Great Gatsby, and the poetry of Langston Hughes and Carl Sandburg, comments on government, politics, and society abound. Pick a theme and choose pieces of literature that address it.
  3. Modern Music as a Reflection of the Times: From the era of jazz and swing during Prohibition, music has always reflected the cultural times. The 1920’s were a time of “breaking out” from the Victorian-type lifestyle, especially for women, who cut their hair, shortened their dresses, and frequented clubs to dance to the new music. Likewise, the 60’s was a new period of revolt against traditional behaviors, of activism and protest, especially against the Vietnam War. It was the era of folk music. Superimposed on this era was “pop art,” one type of which was psychedelic, as depicted by artists such as Warren Lloyd Dayton and Dave Sheridan. Research some of the psychedelic artists and their works and show how they depicted the times.
  4. Graphic Novels and Comics: Should these be considered as art, literature, or both? Take a stand and make your case.
  5. Literary Themes Throughout History: There are certain universal themes that show up in literature of all ages. Take a universal theme, such honor, loyalty, love, etc. and pick a few pieces from different time periods, demonstrating how those authors developed those themes.

Additional topics include the following:

  1. Artificial languages in literature
  2. How has the American Dream been depicted in modern literature?
  3. Explain transcendentalism and how is it depicted in the works of Emerson and Thoreau.
  4. How did Darwin’s book Origin of the Species impact religious thought of the time?
  5.  What are the most famous books that were banned and why?

There you have it – a wealth of topics in a variety of content areas, all of which will be a bit different than what your instructors and professors would consider common. And that is the goal – you want to select topics that will be interesting to both you and your instructors, that will allow you to develop a strong thesis, and to have plenty of resources to research that thesis. As you consider topics in specific curricular areas, keep this list handy. It will provide you with enough ideas from which you can select something that engages your interest and makes the entire task a bit easier.

And remember this: a research essay or paper means just that – research. Do not scrimp on this phase of crafting your piece of research. The more authoritative and original sources you can find and use, the better your case will be made. And consider yourself lucky in this day and age. Your parents did not have the Internet.