How to Find a Topic for a School Project

Three Parts:Getting StartedNarrowing Down Your ChoicesEnsuring Originality

Choosing a topic for a school project can be the hardest part of the whole task. It’s easy to spend hours feeling overwhelmed by all of the possibilities or, on the other hand, by the sense that you have no ideas to work with. With some planning and thinking ahead, however, you can come up with a strong topic that suits the assignment and your personal interests.

Part 1
Getting Started

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    Understand the assignment. As with any work your teacher assigns you, you want to know what is expected of you with regard to the project before you sit down to decide on a topic. Understanding the project is key for picking a topic that will meet the teacher’s requirements and keep you from getting frustrated as you work.
    • If the teacher has provided an assignment sheet, read it over with a pen or highlighter in hand and mark important details pertaining to the types of topic you may choose, the length of the presentation (if any), materials, sources required, etc. Pay attention to the due date as well—you don’t want to spend days working on a project only to run out of time before you finish!
    • Write down any questions or concerns with the project assignment and ask your teacher (or, if you’re on a tight deadline and the teacher is unavailable, ask a reliable classmate). Be as specific as possible with your questions. For example, instead of saying, “I don’t understand the presentation,” you can say, “I don’t understand how the presentation is supposed to be formatted.” The latter example is much more likely to get you a clear explanation of what you are supposed to do.
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    Determine what you hope to learn. If you do a project “just to get it done” or “because you have to,” you’re less likely to enjoy it and less likely do your best work. Instead, try looking at the project as an opportunity to increase your skills, knowledge, and ability.[1]
    • Think about areas where you skills could use improvement and whether there things you’d like to or need to learn. How about areas where you’ve shown some weakness? It’s very common to shy away from working in areas that we don’t consider our strongest, but that can often be a mistake, as it keeps us from building ourselves up in those areas and widening our range of talents.
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    Brainstorm ideas. Get out a piece of paper and a pen/pencil or open a blank document on your computer and set a timer for 5 minutes (don’t worry if 5 minutes isn’t long enough—you can always go longer if you need to). Then start the timer and write down every idea that comes into your mind with regard to your project assignment—words, phrases, sentences, whatever.
    • Write it all down! There are no good or bad ideas in brainstorming.[2] Every idea is an essential element of finding the right topic for your project. So don’t judge what you’re writing…just write!
    • You’re going for a wide array of ideas as you brainstorm, so don’t be too focused or specific just yet.[3] Remember—write down everything that comes to mind. Even if it seems kind of “out there,” just get it out. You’ll be able to get rid of or rethink ideas later on. Right now the task is just getting stuff down on paper.
    • If you work better with other people, enlist the help of a friend or family member in your brainstorming session. Make sure you tell him/her what is required by the assignment sheet (or let them read it), then trade ideas back and forth. This process will naturally take longer than a five-minute solo brainstorming session, but it can yield great results.
    • If you’re the technological type, there are a variety of free online tools, such as and Popplet, that help with brainstorming.[4]

Part 2
Narrowing Down Your Choices

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    Eliminate items from your list. If you really did write down everything that came to your mind during your brainstorming session, then you’ve probably got a pretty sizable list. This is good! Now look it over and scratch off any items that don’t meet the assignment directions; any that won't allow you to learn what you determined you want to learn from this project; and any that don't interest you.
    • This should eliminate quite a few options from your list, which is the points. The goal is to start broad and then narrow the list down until you’ve got 3 or 4 topics more specifically tailored to your desires and the needs of the assignment.
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    Select a topic that interests you. This may seem obvious, but it can’t be overstated. You don’t want to spend 5 hours—let alone 5 days or 5 weeks, depending on the size of the assignment—working on a topic that bores you to tears. This will make you unhappy and result in a project that’s less than your best work.[5]
    • When thinking about which of the remaining topics most interest you, consider things that overlap with your skills and hobbies, your future career, social or political areas of concern, or academic areas of strength.[6]. If you have to do a history project on the United States in the nineteenth century, for example, and you plan to work in government, then you might choose an area such as “the Women’s Suffrage Movement.” Or if you need to do a project for photography class and you enjoy visiting the city, you might choose an area such as “urban renewal.”
    • If none of the topics on your list seems genuinely interesting, think about how some of them can be tweaked or revised so that they more fully reflect your interests, strengths, areas you’d like to improve in, etc.
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    Read background information about your topic. Reading about your selected area online or in the library will help you to get a sense of the subject or field.[7] It will also give you an idea of what’s already out there and what’s been done, what kind of ideas you can build on, etc.
    • It’s important to do some research on the general area you’ve chosen before committing to a very specific topic. This way you can have a firm sense of what’s out there in terms of resources and the range of information.
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    Get specific. Though you start broad, eventually, you will want to narrow your topic down to a workable size.[8] How specific you get will, of course, depend on the specific assignment you have been given by your teacher and your grade level, but you can’t expect to do a project about ALL of Antarctica in 2 days’ time.
    • It’s important to avoid project topics that are too broad and general because you will never be able to satisfyingly cover all of the relevant information, read all of the relevant sources, and so on.[9] It’s much better to provide a detailed look at a smaller subject, something that you can speak or write (or draw) about in depth.
    • Again, go back to your assignment sheet to determine how specific your topic should be. Your teacher may have even provided example topics that you can compare your idea against. If so, you should definitely use the examples as a guide!

Part 3
Ensuring Originality

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    Start with a fresh perspective. If you’re genuinely excited and curious about your topic, chances are you’ll come up with something original. A curiosity to learn is essential for motivating you to pursue ideas in a creative way and to put the time and effort into making your project “new.”
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    Improve upon something that already exists. One way to create an original project is to improve on someone else’s idea, for example, by repeating a science experiment that someone else has already done and then adding onto the experiment to make it more complex or useful.[10] In this instance you’re not creating something entirely new from scratch, but the originality comes in seeing a worthwhile project and finding a way to make it better.
    • This mode is especially valuable when coming up with ideas for a science project, as you can often take an experiment that someone else has already done and find a way to tweak it to test something new or prove something slightly different.
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    Keep investigating. Oftentimes you start a project out with what you do know, but one way to ensure that your project will lead to something that's truly original is to keep exploring the topic until it leads to what you don’t know.[11] Usually, this means you’ve landed on a topic/information that most people in your class don’t know either.
    • Even if the topic you choose right out of the gate of your brainstorming process isn’t the most original thing in world, you still have the opportunity to shape and mold your topic and your project as you go through the tasks of reading and preparing to do the project. Originality can come in at a lot of different points throughout the process of doing the project—it doesn’t necessarily have to be something that’s there right from the start.


  • Projects done with a partner or in a group can be rewarding but also challenging. Because group work involves more than one set of opinions and ideas, the project will benefit from a wider range of creativity when choosing a topic. But it’s also easy to fall into conflict when members can’t agree on a topic or have very distinct interests. If you find yourself having trouble coming up with a topic as a group, you may need to spend some extra time finding areas of interest that overlap.
  • Consider talking with others in your class about their project topics. This might help you generate ideas of your own. Be careful though—you don’t want to use an idea that is too similar to or seems derivative of someone else’s.
  • Remember that your teacher is an important resource for assisting in project topic selection; you shouldn’t hesitate to run potential topic ideas past him or her once you have a few good ones in mind.
  • You may have to do another project in the future for a similar assignment, so hold on to your original list of topics—it may come in handy.
  • Understanding the topic is the key!


  • Waiting until the last minute will often increase your stress and anxiety with regard to choosing a topic for your project. Therefore, it’s wise to try to begin generating topic ideas soon after you receive the assignment. This way, if you find yourself stuck or unsure about which topic to choose, you can always get advice from your teacher or a friend or relative—before you’re up against a deadline.

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