Unleashing Creativity in Research: How High Schoolers Can Find Unique and Engaging Research Topics

20/02/202417 minute read
Unleashing Creativity in Research: How High Schoolers Can Find Unique and Engaging Research Topics

In a competitive college admissions landscape, research accomplishments can help make you stand out, both academically and in terms of extracurriculars. But to achieve these goals, you need to start with a unique and engaging research topic. In this blog post we explain the importance of high school research projects for college admissions, share expert tips for finding your own compelling research topics, and offer you lots of examples of great research topics in different subject areas.

The Importance of Research for High Schoolers

Academic knowledge is driven by inquiry, and virtually all inquiry prompts us to engage in research that advances learning or solves problems. Not only will you need research skills to excel in college, but engaging in high-quality research projects while you’re still in high school can do a lot more than just get you a better grade.

For example, engaging in original research that aligns with your personal passions is a great way to spotlight you curiosity and motivation. And, if you tailor your research project to dovetail with other scholars’ interests, or with a compelling practical application or area of public interest, you’re already spotlighting for admissions officers your ability to apply learning to real life problem solving and public service.

Finally, because a sophisticated research project hones core academic skills, boosts subject-matter learning dramatically, and showcases your academic drive and motivation, an extracurricular research project can go a long way in elevating your college admissions profile!

Great Research Starts with a Great Research Topic

To get the most of a research project, it’s crucial to start with a unique and compelling research topic.

With a research topic that’s relevant and engaging, you’ll get more for the time and effort you’ll be investing in your research project.

Here’s just some of the benefits you can get from a well-designed research project with an interesting and relevant research topic:

  • learn new information that’s not covered in your regular classes
  • discover cutting-edge ideas, interests, and unanswered questions in your field of interest
  • move from passive learning to actively exploring hypotheses and contributing to academic conversations to science, to public policy, or to problem solving
  • make important strides as a student, by consolidating your learning and contributing new insights to your field of interest

With research projects offering so many benefits for high school students, it’s crucial to remember that all winning research starts with a winning research topic!

So let’s get started!

How to Develop a Great Research Topic

Researching something you’re passionate about that’s original, relevant, and compelling is key to turning your research effort into something that really helps you grow and stand out academically.

But, if you aren’t going to settle for an overly cliche or general research topic, how do you find one that’s truly engaging and also right for your interests?

Using a thorough and tested multi-step process is probably the best way to chart your own path to a unique and engaging research topic.

  1. Brainstorming: Good old-fashioned brainstorming is almost certain to help you tap into your own passions and jumpstart the work of developing a great topic. You’re likely to surprise yourself with your own creativity. Be sure to write your ideas down; then finish this step by creating a “short list” of the topic ideas you believe to be most promising.
  2. Exploratory Research: Sometimes you just need to know a bit more about an area of research in order to come up with the best research topics. Exploratory research is often easy to do online, and is a great way to get insights into the subject matter terrain you’re considering in order to:
  • find additional topic ideas
  • deepen or narrow a topic idea
  • decide if a topic is worth pursuing further

TIP: If you’re exploring topics for a PERSONAL ESSAY for college applications, be sure to check out Crimson Education’s Free Topic & Idea Generator.

Or, do you want to learn more about research-focused extracurriculars for high schoolers, with added guidance and learning in the form research mentorships, internship placements, proposal writing competitions, or summer research intensives? If so, reach out to a Crimson Education Advisor for more information.

  1. Defining and Refining Your Research Topic or Question: A research paper or project typically involves more than just a short essay: you’ll have to craft a driving question or hypothesis and synthesize information from a variety of sources:
  • Is your  topic broad enough to invite meaningful inquiry?
  • Is it complex enough to incorporate and evaluate competing perspectives?
  • Is there a way to use specific experiments, examples, or case study approaches in order to keep the project focused?
  1. Outside Guidance and Advice: Getting guidance and input from teachers or professors, other mentors, or industry professionals can be immensely valuable for uncovering new topics or for refining your existing topic ideas!

TIP: Many professionals find it gratifying to talk about their work with an interested young scholar, so don’t be afraid to ask someone in the field for input — it’s a great way to get an expert perspective can really transform a good research topic into a great one.

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Examples of Research Topics Across Disciplines

We’ve covered a lot of ground already, but maybe you’re still wondering, okay, what does a good research topic look like?

As you review the examples below, you can evaluate them on your own by asking yourself:

  • Is the topic open-ended enough? Can the topic be explored with evidence, critical thinking, a case study approach, or some form of scientific method?
  • Is the topic relevant and interesting? Does the topic advance scholarly or academic conversations? Or contribute to an area of public interest or social debate? Or have some kind of scientific value?

Topics in Schools & Education

  1. Should high schools re-invest in vocational education or focus exclusively on a college prep curriculum?
  2. Should ethnic studies courses and curricula in public schools be required, optional, or eliminated ?
  3. How can we predict the impacts tools like Chat-GPT will have on student learning?
  4. Should countries have national curriculum standards, or should local communities and school boards decide what is taught in schools?
  5. Have charter schools helped the US improve the public education system?
  6. What countries appear to have the best education systems and what features do they have in common, if any?

Topics in History

  1. What do important examples in history teach us about the causes of civil war and how to prevent civil war?
  2. Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt are among the highest ranking US presidents, based on scholarly estimations and public opinions. What do their presidencies teach us about the qualities of great political leadership?
  3. What constitutes the US’s greatest military or national defense failure? What lessons  can policymakers draw from it?
  4. Does the history of the Israel-Palestine conflict offer any insights into how to end it today?
  5. What can we learn about democracy today based on the successes and failures of ancient experiments in democracy?
  6. If used as primary source evidence by historians, how can art illuminate social history or social progress?

Topics in Government

  1. Should we protect or abolish the Electoral College in the US?
  2. Using Canada as a model, what are the pros and cons of a nationalized healthcare system?
  3. Is affirmative action good public policy?
  4. Should we reform the US Supreme Court? Why or why not?
  5. Using carbon cap & trade policy, or a similar economic policy as an example, how effective are economic incentives for solving big social problems?
  6. Should there be a global revenue tax on large global technology companies?
  7. Should industrial countries do more to help developing countries cope with the effects of climate change?

Topics in Literature

  1. How does literature give a voice to the voiceless?
  2. Why are some books banned or censored?
  3. Is literature educational or just entertainment?
  4. Do graphic novels count as literature?
  5. What characterizes the works of authors who have won Nobel Prizes for literature?
  6. Can literature —  in the form of novels, short stories, essays, or plays — change the course of history?

Topics in Society, Health, & Human Psychology

  1. What are the best ways to reduce and prevent bullying?
  2. Should we criminalize hate speech?
  3. Since loneliness has been shown to decrease life expectancy, are there any promising ways to combat it?
  4. What can schools do to help reduce mental health suffering in teens and young adults?
  5. Do we truly live in an “age of anxiety”? What do the indicators tell us about the scope of the problem and possible remedies?

Topics in Sports

  1. Should college athletes get paid?
  2. What are the benefits and downsides of participating in athletics in high school?
  3. What sports should be eliminated from the Olympics and which ones added? Why?
  4. How can we use sports to increase international goodwill and cooperation?

Topics in Technology and Social Media

  1. Should there be more age restrictions on social media access?
  2. How can society address hate speech and/or disinformation in social media?
  3. Should employers encourage or discourage more remote work arrangements?
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Interdisciplinary Examples

Another great way to pick a research topic is to explore interdisciplinary areas of research. In fact, many engaging research topics are going to naturally encompass different disciplines.

Here are some examples of topics that bridge two or more disciplines:

  1. What concept(s) from the field of economics might help us find ways to improve education?
  2. How can we use marketing principles to develop better public awareness campaigns for reducing teen vaping?
  3. Does participating in team sports help improve mental health?
  4. How can we apply insights from either microeconomics or from organizational psychology to improve health and fitness?
  5. How can concepts from the study of linguistics help us understand political messaging and address political polarization?
  6. What are additional ways we can leverage economic incentives to combat global warming?
  7. Does mainstream advertising have an impact on social prejudices and stereotypes?

The Social Impact Factor

You should always consider if there are ways to shape your research topic to make your research project more relevant and consequential.

As an illustration, look at the two pairs of research topics below.

Compare the topics in each pair. Does A) or B) have more relevance or urgency in your opinion? Why?

A) What are the personal benefits of participating in team sports?

B) How can we use access to team sports programs in high schools to address today’s teen mental health crisis?

A) How can we use insights from linguistics to promote nonviolence and conflict resolution?

B) How can we use insights from linguistics to reduce extreme political polarization?

If your research topic address a clear “need,” “challenge” or “problem,” your audience is likely to find the topic more engaging and relevant.

What to Do When You’re Not Sure You Have a Good Research Topic?

If you’re not sure if you have a good topic, use the simple rubric below and see how your topic stacks up.

Compelling interest and social relevance. Does your research topic set you up to shed light on an important academic or scientific question? Does it illuminate a controversial and consequential social issue? Will it help solve a consequential problem? If so, you have a topic that will help you stay motivated and be more engaging for your audience.

Personally fulfilling. Whatever research topic you choose, it needs to be a research topic that relates to your own learning interests and passions, otherwise it’s hard to imagine that you’ll get the results you hoped for.

Important academic considerations. A good essay topic will offer valuable benefits for your academic growth and college journey: enhancing and accelerating your learning in one or more disciplines you enjoy studying and boosting your overall academic profile.

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Research Resources

Once you’ve selected a research topic, you’ll obviously need to gather information from various sources and synthesize it into a coherent set of claims, findings, or arguments.

Here's a list of basic research tools and resources that you might find useful:

Libraries and Librarians

Libraries, especially academic libraries, are the researcher’s paradise.

If there’s a drawback to libraries, it’s not a lack of resources, but the challenge of finding your way to what’s most useful and relevant!

Fortunately, most libraries come with librarians who are trained to help researchers find the right resources, so don’t be afraid to ask for help!

Popular Kinds of Library Research Resources

Books: Useful for in-depth information, background information, historical context.

TIP: Don’t worry about how “long” a book is — use the table of contents and indexes to navigate to the information you need.

Academic Journals: Get scholarly articles useful for gathering more specialized and more up-to-date information about your topic.

Magazines and Newspapers: Good resources for getting interesting quotes from experts in a current events context or for exploring diverse public perspectives and viewpoints.

Online Platforms and Databases: Although some of these, such as Google Scholar are free and easy to access from any computer and internet browser, it’s often easier to get free access to many others with the help of a school or public library acting as an intermediary. Also, there are so many digital resources and databases, that we recommend getting assistance in this area from a trained librarian.

Reference Librarians: Last but not at all least, take advantage of librarians! They are not a direct research source of course, but may help you navigate quickly to the most useful research resources for your particular topic.

TIP: In many larger libraries, the librarians specially trained to help patrons with research are commonly referred to as reference librarians.

Internet Search Engines

Most young scholars today are already well acquainted with internet searches and search engines, with Google and Bing among the most popular.

Here’s a few tips for upping your internet search prowess:

Educational Websites

There are a number of .edu websites operated by reputable sources that provide access to a range of educational content for students at different grade levels. Here are just a few examples:

Government and Organization Websites

There are also lots of government (.gov ) websites offering useful information for researchers. An upside of .gov websites is they are among the most objective and reliable sources of information, appropriate for academic research. Examples in the US include:

  • The White House
  • The Department of State
  • PubMed
  • Science.gov
  • Department of Justice
  • Department of Agriculture
  • Department of Education

Websites operated by large, well-established, and highly reputable organizations are also typically good sources of information for researchers.

Examples could be highly reputable news organizations, such as US News and World Report, The BBC, Time Magazine, or The New York Times. Most of these news outlets also have searchable online resources.

Alternately, large international organizations, such as the United Nations or the World Health Organization, or the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation can also be reliable sources of information.

Documentaries and Educational Videos

Easy to overlook as research resources are any number of educational videos, podcasts, and documentary films.

YouTube educational channels such as CrashCourse and TED-Ed are two examples.

Likewise, ordinary streaming services may also list informative, high-quality documentaries.

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Final Thoughts

In this post, we've explored a wide array of strategies and considerations for choosing a compelling research topic. From brainstorming and exploratory research to defining and refining your topic with guidance from mentors and professionals, the journey to selecting the right topic is as important as the research itself!

The Power of a Good Topic: Remember, an intriguing and relevant topic will not only captivate your audience but keep you motivated to the finish line.

Aligning with Your Interests: Does your topic resonate with your personal learning interests and goals? This alignment is crucial for achieving fulfilling and meaningful outcomes.

Practical Considerations: Consider how your chosen topic can enhance your understanding and passion in your field of study, especially in the context of your future academic and career goals.

Finally, don't underestimate the value of the resources and tools available for research exploration.

From online search to electronic databases and journals, to librarians themselves, these tools are pivotal in helping you refine your research interests and embark on a successful research project.

Interested in exploring more options for pre-college research experiences? Want information about more advanced research mentorships, competitions, internships, or initiatives? Connecting with a Crimson Education Advisor is the best way to find opportunities like these, both online and around the world, based on your individual interests and preferences.

These opportunities can take you well beyond ordinary classroom research assignments, connecting you with like-minded peers for group projects, with schools hosting summer research intensives or fun and prestigious research competitions, or with university mentors…

We’ve helped thousands of students just like you elevate their extracurriculars with opportunities like these! Contact a friendly Crimson Education Advisor today and find out what you can do…

Finally, stay tuned for future blogs that explore extracurriculars, interesting future careers, diverse majors, and insights for boosting your university admissions strategy!

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