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Geology Writing Guide

Developing Your Topic

Developing a Topic

Deciding on a topic to research and write about can be a challenging step in the research process.  Here are some ideas to help you get started.

Things to keep in mind:

See your paper or project as a learning experience; it’s an opportunity to learn and show what you’ve learned through research and writing, rather than studying and taking an examination.

Understand from the start that picking a topic is a research process in itself; it will take time and effort to explore your interests through reading and research.  Your topic will likely develop (i.e. become more narrow and focused) as you discover new information about it.

Exploring topics and developing your research question:

Explore topics that you’re invested in, ones that peak your curiosity; you and your professor will find the end result much more interesting and it will result in a better grade. 

Deciding on a topic is the beginning of your research, but the process includes asking questions and seeking answers about your topic. Start with some exploration and background reading. 

  • As you ponder and read, write down questions you have. 
    • What assumptions or expectations do you have about the topic?
    • What are you learning that changes or challenges your current understanding?
    • What new questions do you have as a result?
  • Think about how you might answer these questions.

Resources that can help you to explore topics of interest:

  • Your textbook
  • Search the Internet - Wikipedia or websites from organizations like the US Geological Survey can be good places to begin.
  • Browse library resources such as geoscience encyclopedias.
  • Explore library search engines to see what others have written in the peer reviewed journal literature.  This literature is about original research others have done.

Question Formulation Activity (revise) - Download this Word document and follow the instructions in it to get your research off to a good start.

Thesis Statement: (How does his dovetail with question formulation?)

  • Need help developing a thesis statement?  See What is a thesis statement? in the Introduction section of the Geology Writing Guide.


  1. At the top of a page, briefly describe your topic idea.
  2. Down the left half of a page, list the assumptions or expectations you had about the topic.
  3. Down the right half, list what you have found or learned so far about the topic that challenged your current understanding.
  4. List new questions you have as a result.
  5. Think about how you might answer these questions.
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