Skip to main content

History Subject Guide: 1. Topic Development

Trent University Library History Subject Guide

Topic Development

You can save yourself hours of frustration by taking the time to develop and focus your topic. 

The Academic Skills Centre at Trent University has a tutorial on how to select and narrow a topic or analyze an assigned topic.

Here are a few tips to get you started:

Selecting a topic

  • If permitted, choose a topic that interests you.
  • Brainstorm ideas.  Try creating a concept map to develop a topic.
  • Discuss ideas with your classmates, TAs or professors. 
  • Look in newspapers and subject relevant journals for ideas.
  • Do some background reading in general or subject specific encyclopedias or other reference books to get an overview of a topic.
  • Don't forget to take notes and record information about interesting resources you find while exploring a topic.
  • Be sure the topic meets the requirements of the assignment.

Narrowing a topic

  • Think about specific aspects that interest you.
  • Consider different viewpoints.
  • Think about specific time periods, population groups (e.g. gender, age, culture), and geographic areas.
  • Think about Who, What, When, Where and Why?


Start early to determine if the scope of a topic is manageable in the time you have to complete your assignment and so that you know if there are available resources on the topic.