Read the assignment requirements carefully. If you are unsure what topic would be relevant, talk to your professor.
Choose a topic you find interesting.
Use background research to learn more about your topic and to refine your focus. Resources like Wikipedia(Note: Because Wikipedia is created through crowd-sourcing, evaluate Wikipedia pages by considering, for example, their references, length, etc.) and Oxford Reference Online can provide helpful overviews of a topic.
Consider how others have written about your topic. Review sources that are referenced in your background sources.
Consider your topic's scope. How broad or narrow is it?
If your topic is too broad, narrowing it will make it easier to find relevant information.
If your topic is too narrow, broadening your search strategy will help you find related information. Consider broadening your search strategy. For example, if you're interested in organic food labeling in a specific city, widen your information search to organic food labeling within the United States.
Too broad: food safety
Better: impact of U.S. government regulation of food safety
Too narrow: history of organic labeling of pork products in Portland, OR
Better: labeling of organic food in the United States
Refining Your Research Focus
Brainstorm concepts and related terms. (For example, the topic "polar bears" could be related to terms like: pollution, hunting, diet, and environmental icon.)
What's your approach to the topic? Your research could, for example, use an historical angle (focusing on a particular time period); a geographical angle (focusing on a particular part of the world); or a sociological angle (focusing on a particular group of people). Your approach will depend largely on your research question and on the class or the academic discipline in which you are working.
Start more exploratory research. Consider how others discuss the topic. How might the sources inform or challenge your approach to your research question? Refine your topic in light of what you find.
Develop a research question. After you know more about your topic and how others are discussing it, begin to develop a research question. What about this topic interests you and is likely to engage your readers? (See "From Topic to Research Question.")
Research is a dynamic process. You will likely need to refine your question as you learn more about your topic. This is usually the sign of thoughtful research.
Resources for Developing Your Topic
Your instructor, subject librarians, course readings, class notes, Wikipedia, and Google.
Library resources like Oxford Reference Online and subject-specific encyclopedias: overviews and introductions to topics that can also help you identify research topics and gain background knowledge
Research and Subject Guides: online guides that help you identify encyclopedias, books, databases, and other materials. (Click "By Subject" for Subject Guides.)
Credo Reference has a brief video that talks about how to select a topic (if you are off campus, you'll need to log in to view the video).
Here is a longer video from Portland State University Library explaining subject encyclopedias and the value of background information when choosing and developing your topic: