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Writing a research paper for a class and not sure how to start?

One of the most important steps to creating a great paper is finding a good topic! 

Here’s a hand-drafted list from a Princeton grad who has helped professors at Harvard and Yale edit their papers for publication and taught college writing at the University of Notre Dame and .

What’s more, we give you some foolproof formulas for creating your own paper topic to fit the requirements of your class.

Using these simple formulas, we’ve helped hundreds of students turn a B- paper topic into an A+ paper topic.

Keep reading for our list of 500 vetted research paper topics and our magic formulas for creating your own topic!

Of course, if you want help learning to write research papers tailored to your individual needs, check out our one-on-one writing coaching or academic writing workshop. Set up a free consultation to see how we can help you learn to write A+ papers!

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Bonus Material: Essential essay checklist


What is a research paper?

In order to write a good research paper, it’s important to know what it is! 

In general, we can divide academic writing into three broad categories:

  1. Analytical: analyze the tools an author uses to make their point
  2. Research: delve deeply into a research topic and share your findings
  3. Persuasive: argue a specific and nuanced position backed by evidence

What’s the difference between an analytical paper and a research paper? For an analytical paper, it’s okay to just use one or two sources (a book, poem, work of art, piece of music, etc.) and examine them in detail. For a research paper, however, the expectation is that you do, well . . . research.

student writing research paper

The depth of research that you’re expected to do will depend on your age and the type of class you’re taking.

In elementary or middle school, a “research paper” might mean finding information from a few general books or encyclopedias in your school library. 

In high school, your teachers might expect you to start using information from academic articles and more specific books. You might use encyclopedias and general works as a starting point, but you’ll be expected to go beyond them and do more work to synthesize information from different perspectives or different types of sources. You may also be expected to do “primary research,” where you study the source material yourself, instead of synthesizing what other people have written about the source material.

In college, you’ll be required to use academic journals and scholarly books, and your professors will now expect that you be more critical of these secondary sources, noticing the methodology and perspectives of whatever articles and books you’re using. 

In more advanced college courses, you’ll be expected to do more exhaustive surveys of the existing literature on a topic. You’ll need to conduct primary research that makes an original contribution to the field—the kind that could be published in a journal article itself.

For a walkthrough of the 12 essential steps to writing a good paper, check out our step-by-step guide.

student writing research paper

Working on a research paper? Grab our free checklist to make sure your essay has everything it needs to earn an A grade.


What makes a good research paper topic?

One of the most important features of a research paper topic is that it has a clear, narrow focus. 

For example, your teacher may assign you to write a research paper related to the US Revolutionary War. Does that mean that your topic should be “the US Revolutionary War”? 

Definitely not! There’s no way to craft a good paper with in-depth research with such a broad topic. (Unless you’re in elementary or middle school, in which case it’s okay to have a more general topic for your research paper.)

Instead, you need to find a more specific topic within this broader one. There are endless ways that you can make this narrower! Some ideas generated from this one broader topic might be:

  1. Causes of the US Revolutionary War
  2. Changes in military strategy during the Revolutionary War
  3. The experiences of Loyalists to England who remained in the American colonies during the Revolutionary War
  4. How the Revolutionary War was pivotal for the career of Alexander Hamilton
  5. The role of alliances with France during the US Revolutionary War
  6. The experiences of people of color during the Revolutionary War
  7. How George Washington’s previous military career paved the way for his leadership in the Revolutionary War
  8. The main types of weaponry during the Revolutionary War
  9. Changes in clothing and fashion over the courses of the Revolutionary War
  10. How Valley Forge was a key moment in the Revolutionary War
  11. How women contributed to the Revolutionary War
  12. What happened in Amherst, Massachusetts during the Revolutionary War
  13. Field medicine during the Revolutionary War
  14. How the Battle of Saratoga was a turning point in the Revolutionary War
  15. How different opinions about the Revolutionary War were reflected in poetry written during that time
  16. Debates over abolition during the Revolutionary War
  17. The importance of supply chains during the Revolutionary War
  18. Reactions to the US Revolutionary war in Europe
  19. How the US Revolutionary war impacted political theory in England and France
  20. Similarities and differences between the US Revolutionary War and the French Revolution
  21. Famous paintings inspired by the US Revolutionary War
  22. Different ways that the US Revolutionary War has been depicted in modern contemporary culture
  23. The appropriation of the “Boston Tea Party” by US politicians in the 2010s

This list could go on forever!

good research paper topics about the US Revolution

In fact, any of these topics could become even more specific. For example, check out the evolution of this topic:

  1. Causes of the US Revolutionary War
  2. Economic causes of the Revolutionary war
  3. The way that tax policies helped lead to the Revolutionary War
  4. How tax laws enacted 1763–1775 helped lead to the Revolutionary War
  5. How the tax-free status of the British East India Company helped lead to the Revolutionary War
  6. How the 1773 tax-free status of the British East India Company helped lead to the Revolutionary War, as reflected in letters written 1767–1775
  7. How the 1773 tax-free status of the British East India Company helped lead to the Revolutionary War, as reflected in letters written by members of the Sons of Liberty 1767–1775

As you advance in your educational career, you’ll need to make your topic more and more specific. Steps 1–3 of this topic might be okay in high school, but for a college research paper steps 4–7 would be more appropriate!

As you craft your research paper topic, you should also keep in mind the availability of research materials on your subject. There are millions of topics that would make interesting research papers, but for which you yourself might not be able to investigate with the primary and secondary sources to which you have access.

library for writing research paper

Access to research materials might look like:

  • To the best of our knowledge, the sources exist somewhere
  • The source isn’t behind a paywall (or you or your school can pay for it)
  • Your school or local library has a copy of the source
  • Your school or local library can order a copy of the source for you
  • The source is in a language that you speak
  • The source has been published already (there’s tons of amazing research that hasn’t been published yet, a frustrating problem!)
  • You can access the archive, museum, or database where the primary source is held—this might mean online access or travel! To access a source in an archive or museum you’ll often need permission, which often requires a letter of support from your school.

If you’re not sure about access to source materials, talk to a librarian! They’re professionals for this question.

Finally, pick a research topic that interests you! Given that there are unlimited research topics in the world and many ways to adapt a broad topic, there should absolutely be a way to modify a research topic to fit your interests.

student writing research paper

Want help learning to write an amazing research paper? Work one-on-one with an experienced Ivy-League tutor to improve your writing skills or sign up for our bestselling academic writing workshop.


Insider tips to generate your own research paper topic

Use these formulas to generate your own research paper topics:

  • How did X change over a period of time (year, decade, century)?
  • What is the impact (or consequences) of X?
  • What led to X?
  • What is the role of X in Y?
  • How did X influence Y?
  • How did X become Y?
  • How was X different from Y?
  • How is X an example of Y?
  • How did X affect Y?
  • What were some reactions to X?
  • What are the most effective policies to produce X result?
  • What are some risks of X?
  • How is our current understanding of X incorrect? (advanced)
  • What happens if we look at X through the lens of Y theory or perspective? (advanced)

A good research paper topic often starts with the question words—why, how, what, who, and where. Remember to make it as specific as possible!

student writing research paper


Good research paper topics

These research paper topics have been vetted by a Princeton grad and academic book editor!

US History

  1. How did European rivalries (British vs French) impact North American history?
  2. What was the role of British and French alliances with indigneous tribes during the Seven Years’ War?
  3. Reactions to the 1754 Albany Congress among North American intellectual figures
  4. How the Albany Plan served as a model for future attempts at union among the North American colonies
  5. How did different religious identities (Calvinist, Catholic, etc.) play a role in the aftermath of the Seven Years’ War?
  6. What were the consequences of the 1763 Treaty of Paris?
  7. How did the Seven Years’ War impact British debt and colonial economics?
  8. What were some causes of the US Revolutionary War?
  9. How did military strategy change during the Revolutionary War?
  10. What were the experiences of Loyalists to England who remained in the American colonies during the Revolutionary War?
  11. How was the Revolutionary War pivotal for the career of Alexander Hamilton?
  12. What was the role of alliances with France during the US Revolutionary War?
  13. What were the experiences of people of color during the Revolutionary War?
  14. How did George Washington’s previous military career pave the way for his leadership in the Revolutionary War?
  15. What were the main types of weaponry during the Revolutionary War? How did that affect the options for military strategies?
  16. How did clothing and fashion change over the courses of the Revolutionary War?
  17. How was Valley Forge a key moment in the Revolutionary War?
  18. How did women contribute to the Revolutionary War?
  19. What happened in Amherst, Massachusetts (or any other specific location) during the Revolutionary War?
  20. What was field medicine like during the Revolutionary War? 
  21. How was the Battle of Saratoga a turning point in the Revolutionary War?
  22. How were different opinions about the Revolutionary War reflected in poetry written during that time?
  23. What were the debates over abolition during the Revolutionary War?
  24. What was the role of supply chains during the Revolutionary War?
  25. What were reactions to the US Revolutionary war like in Europe? What does that tell us about politics in England, France, the Netherlands, etc?
  26. How did the US Revolutionary war impact political theory in England and France?
  27. What are similarities and differences between the US Revolutionary War and the French Revolution?
  28. What are some famous paintings inspired by the US Revolutionary War? What do differences between these paintings tell us about how the artists who created them saw the war?
  29. What are some different ways that the US Revolutionary War has been depicted in modern contemporary culture? What does that tell us?
  30. How was the story of the “Boston Tea Party” appropriated by US politicians in the 2010s, and why?
  31. What was the difference between the Federalists and the Jeffersonians?
  32. How did the 1797 XYZ Affair lead to the Quasi-War with France?
  33. How were loans from European countries and companies (France, Spain, Dutch bankers) key to the early US?
  34. What were reactions to the Constitutional Convention of 1787?
  35. Why did the US remain neutral during the French Revolution?
  36. How did the Alien and Sedition acts contribute to the election of Thomas Jefferson as president?
  37. What was the US’s reaction to the Haitian revolution? Why did the US not recognize Haitian independence until 1862?
  38. What were the reactions to John Jay’s Treaty of 1794?
  39. How have the remarks made by George Washington in his Farewell Address inspired isolationist policies?
  40. How did interpretations of the Monroe Doctrine change over the decades since its creation? 
  41. How did the Roosevelt Corollary and Lodge Corollary change and expand the Monroe Doctrine?
  42. How did the presence of US companies like the United Fruit Company affect US military interventions in Latin America? 
  43. How was the Monroe Doctrine invoked in the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962? 
  44. How was US culture shaped by the Cold War?

European & Mediterranean History

  1. How did ecology play a role in the rise of Ancient Egypt?
  2. How did water management technologies impact Ancient Egypt?
  3. How did bureaucracies function in Ancient Egypt?
  4. How did Egyptian art influence Ancient Greek art?
  5. Who could be a citizen in Athens in the 5th century BCE? What does this tell us about classical Athenian society?
  6. What was the impact of the Peloponnesian War?
  7. What was the impact of Alexander the Great’s attempt to create an empire?
  8. How does the way that Alexander the Great is represented in art demonstrate conceptions about the relationship between the human and the divine?
  9. Was there a conception of race in the ancient world? How were these ideas different from our own modern conceptions of race?
  10. What was the role of debt slavery in the Roman republic? How were these policies ended, and what is the significance of the end of debt slavery? What kinds of slavery remained?
  11. To what degree does the movie Gladiator accurately the Roman Empire in 176–192 CE?
  12. What was the role of slavery in managing the large latifundia?
  13. How and why did the emperor Constantine I adopt Christianity?
  14. How did patterns of urbanism in the latter Roman empire change? What does this tell us about challenges being faced at that time?
  15. What do reactions to the Byzantine empress Theodora tell us about ideas of gender in 6th-century Byzantium?
  16. How did scientific advancements in Islamic Spain influence the rest of Europe?
  17. What was the relationship between Muslim, Christian, and Jewish populations in Islamic Spain? How does this compare to the experience of Muslim and Jewish populations in Christian Spain?
  18. How did medieval troubadour poetry represent a new idea of romantic relationships?
  19. What are similarities and differences between medieval troubadour poetry and lyric poetry in Ancient Greece? 
  20. What do letters between women and popes tell us about gender, power, and religion in medieval Europe?
  21. In what ways was Hildegard of Bingen groundbreaking for her time?
  22. Who produced beer in medieval England, and what does this tell us about society?
  23. How did the adoption of hops affect the production and distribution of beer?
  24. How did beer production allow some women a way to be financially independent?
  25. How was clothing used to mark religious and cultural identities in 15th- and 16th-century Spain?
  26. How did print culture change relationships and courting in Georgian England?
  27. How did churches function as social gathering spaces in Georgian England?
  28. To what degree is Netflix’s Bridgerton series historically accurate?
  29. How did ideas of love change in the 18th century? How did philosophy play a role in this?
  30. When were Valentine cards first commercially available? What does that show us about cultural ideas of love and courtship?

African History

  1. What were the consequences of the desertification of the Sahara?
  2. How did trade links on the Red Sea influence Nubian culture?
  3. How did Carthage build power in Northern Africa around 600–500 BCE?
  4. What was the impact of the Mercenary War (241–238 BCE) in Carthage?
  5. How did the Roman province of Africa play a key role in financing the Roman Empire?
  6. What were the consequences of the Donatist division in the 300s in Northern Africa?
  7. What was the impact of the large-scale movement of Bedouins from the Arabian peninsula into the Maghreb?
  8. How was Mande society organized in the Mali Empire? 
  9. What was the role of the book trade in Timbuktu? What does this tell us about culture and learning in the Mali Empire?
  10. How did Aksum use trade to build wealth and power? 
  11. What do Nok terracotta sculptures tell us about Nok culture?
  12. How did the Luba Empire create a centralized political system? How did the idea of spiritual kins (balopwe) play a role in this system?
  13. How did tax collection work in the Lunda empire?
  14. What does it mean to say that the Ajuran Empire was a hydraulic empire? How did control over water resources allow the Ajuran Empire to build and consolidate power?
  15. What is the significance of diplomatic ties between the Somai Ajuran Empire and Ming dynasty China? 
  16. How did the tribute system in the Kingdom of Kongo help to stimulate interregional trade?
  17. What was the impact of the introduction of maize and cassava to the Kingdom of Kongo?
  18. How did women wield influence in the Kingdom of Benin?
  19. How did the Industrial Revolution in Europe help lead to the Scramble for Africa 1878–1898?
  20. What were the consequences of the Second Boer War?
  21. What happened in the Year of Africa (1960)?

Asian History

  1. How did the Han dynasty consolidate power in frontier regions? 
  2. How and why did the Han dynasty nationalize the private salt and iron industries in 117 BCE?
  3. What are the earliest records of papermaking, and what is the significance of this invention?
  4. What was the role of Daoist religious societies in rebellions at the end of the Han dynasty (Yellow Turban Rebellion, Five Pecks of Rice Rebellion)?
  5. What do tomb paintings tell us about ancient Chinese society?
  6. What was the impact of the Sui dynasty’s standardization and re-unification of the coinage?
  7. What was the role of standardized testing in Sui dynasty and Tang dynasty China?
  8. Why is the Tang dynasty often regarded as a golden age of cosmopolitan culture in Chinese history?
  9. What was the role of slavery in imperial China? 
  10. How did the rise of jiedushi (regional military governments) undermine the civil-service system? What were the consequences of this?
  11. How did Tang dynasty China exert power over Japan and Korea?
  12. What was the Three Departments and Six Ministries system in imperial China and how did it work?

History of the Pre-Columbian Americas

  1. What does the appearance of Inca, Maya, and Aztec goods in North America (Utah, Canada) and the appearance of goods from the Great Lakes region in Maya and Aztec ruins tell us about trade in the Pre-Columbian Americas?
  2. How did celebration of maize play a central role in Mesoamerican cultures?
  3. How did the Aztec empire use relationships with client city-states to establish power? How did the Aztec empire use taxation to exert power?
  4. How did the luxury good trade impact Aztec political power? 
  5. How did the building of roads play a key role in the Aztec empire?
  6. How and why has archaeology played a pivotal role in expanding our understanding of the pre-Columbian Americas?
  7. What are some common misconceptions about the Americas in the year 1491? Why do these misconceptions exist?

Latin American History (post-1492)

  1. How and why did the Spanish appropriate Aztec sites of significance (e.g. Mexico City at the site of Tenochtitlan)?
  2. What were reactions among Latin American intellectuals (e.g. Luis María Drago, Alejandro Álvarez and Baltasar Brum) to the Monroe Doctrine?
  3. How was the US’s involvement in the Venezuela Crisis of 1902–1903 a pivotal turning point in the relationship between the US and Latin American countries?
  4. What were the effects of the US’s involvement in the Cuban War for Independence?
  5. How did the Roosevelt Corollary of 1904 benefit the US?
  6. How did Simon Bolivar’s time in Europe affect his ideas about Latin American independence?

History of Science

  1. How did 19th century academic societies play a role in the advancement of scientific discoveries? Who was excluded from these societies?
  2. How was music connected to the sciences in medieval thinking?
  3. When was the concept of zero first used, and how was it instrumental for advancements in math?
  4. What role did Islamic Spain play in the spread of scientific advancements in medieval Europe?
  5. What role has translation between languages played in the development of sciences?
  6. Why were Galileo’s ideas about astronomy controversial at the time?
  7. What was the connection between art and advancements in human anatomy?
  8. Why were Darwin’s ideas about natural selection controversial at the time?
  9. To what degree does the film Master and Commander accurately depict the voyages of Charles Darwin?
  10. How did the discovery of quinine and other medical innovations help to facilitate the European colonization of Africa?
  11. How and why was the internet invented?

Literature

  1. Does Virgil’s Aeneid celebrate the new Roman Empire or subvert it?
  2. Why was the poet Ovid exiled from Rome?
  3. What are the pagan influences in Beowulf? What are the Christian elements in Beowulf? What does that tell us about late Anglo-Saxon England?
  4. How does Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales reflect gender roles in late medieval England?
  5. How does Dante’s Inferno draw on book IV of Virgil’s Aeneid
  6. How are gender roles presented and subverted in Shakespeare’s plays?
  7. To what degree did Henry David Thoreau live out the ideals he described in Walden in his own life?
  8. How did the serialized publication of novels affect the way that they were written?
  9. Does Dickens’ novel A Tale of Two Cities accurately portray the French Revolution?
  10. How did 18th-century novels propagate the idea of marrying for love?
  11. What did contemporary readers think about Jane Austen and her novels?
  12. To what degree do Jane Austen’s novels reflect economic realities for women in Regency England? What do they leave out?
  13. How did Lord Byron’s personal life affect his poetry?
  14. What do we know about the romantic life of Emily Dickinson?
  15. What were the religious movements that influenced the writer George Eliot, and how do those influences appear in her novels?
  16. In what ways were Walt Whitman’s writings new or different?
  17. How did British poets react to the horrors of Word War I?
  18. What do Tolkien’s letters reveal about the ways in which the two world wars influenced his writings?
  19. How did the friendship between CS Lewis and Tolkien affect their respective writings?

Politics & Public Policy

  1. What are the arguments for and against Catalonian independence from Spain?
  2. What are the arguments for and against Scottish independence from the United Kingdom?
  3. What are some risks of contact sports, especially for children?
  4. What are the most effective policies for combating childhood obesity?
  5. What are the most effective policies for reducing gun violence?
  6. Which countries have the longest life expectancy and why?
  7. What are some differences between the healthcare system in the US and in European countries? Which country has the most similar system to the US?
  8. What policies for parental leave exist in different countries? What are some effects of these policies?
  9. Has the drinking age in the US always been 21? What have been some different policies, and what were some consequences of them?
  10. What is the debate around museum artifacts like the Elgin Marbles in London or the Benin Bronzes in Berlin?
  11. How have politicians attempted to control population growth in different countries, either directly or indirectly? What have been some effects of these policies?
  12. Which countries have the most gender parity reflected in national governments? How have they accomplished this?

Education & Education Policy

  1. How has public funding of K-12 education changed since the 1930s in the US? 
  2. How has public funding of higher education changed in the US?
  3. What is early childhood education like in different countries?
  4. What are some effects of free or reduced-cost meals in schools?
  5. How does access to menstrual products affect education outcomes for girls in different countries?
  6. What was the impact of Rousseau’s writings on education?

Political Theory

  1. How did Plato’s ideal forms of government reflect contemporary Athenian concerns about the unruly masses (demos)?
  2. How did Aristotle justify slavery?

Economics

  1. How has wealth inequality increased in recent decades?
  2. How is inflation calculated, and what are the implications of this methodology?

Science Policy

  1. How have genetically-engineered crops changed the way that the planet feeds itself?
  2. How has animal testing changed since 2000?
  3. How is animal testing regulated differently in different countries?

Health Sciences and Psychology

  1. How do different societies reflect the natural circadian rhythms of the human body?
  2. How does secondhand smoke affect the human body?
  3. How does lack of sleep affect the body?
  4. How does stress affect the body?
  5. What are some ways to reduce stress?
  6. How have cancer treatments changed in the past 30 years?
  7. Why is it hard to find a “cure” for cancer?
  8. How has the Human Genome Project changed medical science?
  9. How were the Covid vaccines developed so quickly? What is the difference between the various Covid vaccines that have been developed?


Next steps

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Emily

Emily graduated summa cum laude from Princeton University and holds an MA from the University of Notre Dame. A veteran of the publishing industry, she has helped professors at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton revise their books and articles. Over the last decade, Emily has successfully mentored hundreds of students in all aspects of the college admissions process, including the SAT, ACT, and college application essay.