Skip to main content

Jessie Ball duPont Library

Philosophy 307: Political Philosophy

Choosing a Topic

It can often be difficult to know how to choose a topic or where to enter into an existing conversation on a topic. The best place to start is with the instructional materials provided by your professor! A great place to build on that basis or to get a deeper sense of the conversation on your topic is the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. It is an especially in-depth subject encyclopedia with many references to the current conversation in the field.

Existing Conversations

Most research questions do not exist in an information vacuum. Other researchers have likely been discussing the general topic you are researching in both published and unpublished forums.  It's a good idea to do some sort of survey of what's already out there as you begin your research. 

Why?  This will help you:

  • Not duplicate effort by 'discovering' something that is already known.
  • Find out what approaches have already been tried, and learn from their mistakes.
  • Determine what the 'open questions' are. What areas are still unknown?
  • Best Case Scenario: Produce research that makes a new and interesting contribution to the field.


  1. Start with the expert you know!
       Are there readings that your professor recommends?  Also, have previous students written on a similar project, could you contact them?
  2. Get help
       Set up an individual appointment with a research librarian in your area of study.  They can help you formulate a search strategy to search the many research databases that the library has in your subject area.
  3. Look for overviews
    Rather than reading everything ever printed on your general topic, it is useful to look for general overviews that summarize recent work in your field and point you to more specific publications.  These type of publications are often called Review Articles or Literature Reviews. You can often use the keywords "literature review" or "review article" to refine your search along with keywords on your topic.

Research Arguments vs. Reports

Remember that your paper in this class is not just a report on the available research. You are entering into an existing conversation and making a specific argument. Our research guide on academic arguments can help you tell the difference between the types of research writing. 

Credo Reference Search Box

Have no idea where to start? Wait! Don't head off to Wikipedia just yet. Try a similar resource that pulls only from published academic sources: CREDO!

Other Helpful Skills

Polish some of the research skills that will be necessary for research, writing, and presentation across multiple academic disciplines.