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Energy & Nuclear Engineering First Year Survival Guide

How do I Generate a Topic?

Generate a topic by thinking of something in the world that interests you or looking at the list of topics in your assignment. If you aren't given specific topics by your professor, you can always think about

  • strong opinions you have on a current social, economic, or technological controversy
  • newspaper articles, TV shows, or personal experiences that made you curious, angry, or anxious
  • personal issues, problems, or interests
  • areas of your coursework that you'd like to explore further

The key to generating a great topic is to be genuinely interested in it. Pick something that makes you emotional (whether excited or scared)--it'll help keep you motivated when the research gets tough.


Research topics are difficult if they are too narrow or too broad. Keep topics manageable by narrowing them down by geographic region, by culture, by demographics, or by time period. If a topic is too narrow, you may not find any information about it. If the topic happened more recently (ex. in the last week), you won't be able to locate scholarly sources such as books or articles. Rather, only newspapers and magazines articles (and maybe websites) will exist. 

Generate Keywords

You need to generate keywords because library databases and resources don't behave like Google: you can't just type in your whole research question and expect to find results. Instead, you'll need to break down the main concepts of your topic into chunks.

What Can Keywords Look Like?

Keywords can be (but are not limited to):

  • a theory (structural engineering theory)
  • an event (Three Mile Island)
  • an example (Cold War as an example of nuclear proliferation)
  • a phrase ("electric cars")
  • a proper name of a thing/person/place (Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant/Elon Musk/New York City)
  • a concept (stress-strain curve)
  • an issue (air pollution)

Be creative! Keywords don't always have to be one word. Try to distil your topic into 2-4 main keywords.

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