原則一：了解研究報告題目Understand the assignment
When a professor assigns a paper to a class, the implicit understanding is that a student will produce a paper in harmony with the assignment. The submitted paper may or may not be competently researched and well-written, but at the very least it is expected to be in the assigned area of research. Yet instructors still are disappointed to receive papers on, say, William Shakespeare's classic family tragedies when the assignment was on the Bard's sonnets.
Researching and writing a paper that almost meets the assigned criteria isn't good enough. Professors are the experts in their disciplines and in their classrooms. They are familiar with the many facets of a subject. They intentionally assign papers on one slice of a broader subject in the expectation that students will examine that slice in some depth. When a student chooses to write on another facet of the subject, it not only is disappointing, it portends a failing grade.
Sometimes the fault lies with a professor for not clearly laying out the assignment. Sometimes it is the student who fails to grasp an assignment and to question it. As Cool Hand Luke famously said, “What we've got here is a failure to communicate .” But ultimately it is the student who will suffer the most when such confusion occurs, so it is the student who must clear away the confusion before proceeding. Always know the assignment before beginning to fulfill it.
原則二：確認研究報告的主題范圍Clearly identify the parameters of an assigned topic
This suggestion is closely related to the first one, which was to understand an assignment. But rather than dealing with miscommunication between student and instructor, this suggestion has to do with a writer's judgment. Case in point: A clear-thinking student in a culinary curriculum who is assigned an academic paper on tuna should ultimately conclude that a paper on the health benefits of tuna salad is more appropriate than a paper on the economics of tuna fishing.
Yet professors are regularly surprised by topical tangents. Students sometimes ending up fishing for good grades in strange and irrelevant places. Unfortunately for them, the result is a marked-down paper. This doesn't mean that instructors don't appreciate writers who bring fresh ideas and subjects to a topical mix. Willingness to stretch a topic is an indication of intellectual heft and confidence. But stretch a topic too far and usually it will collapse into irrelevancy.
A general guideline to follow in evaluating the relevancy of a subject is to work outward from the core. If the assigned topic is tuna, for example, a concentric line of reasoning might go like this: Tuna – Fresh / Canned – Properties of canned tuna in water / oil – Albacore vs. Pacific bluefin – Mercury vs. low fats – Protein content – Tuna hash vs. Grilled tuna – and so on. While the process can go on for some time, it should end well before Charlie the Tuna is considered.
評估主題是否相關有一條通則，就是寫作時從核心向外探索。舉例來說，如果題目是鮪魚，思考論證的同心圓邏輯應該是：鮪魚－罐頭或新鮮鮪魚－水煮與油漬鮪魚的特性－長鰭鮪魚與太平洋藍鰭鮪魚－含汞量與低脂肪－蛋白質含量－鮪魚馬鈴薯或煎烤鮪魚…等等。諸如此類的清單可以延伸下去，但如果討論到鮪魚罐頭品牌的卡通吉祥物 Charlie the Tuna ，就表示你離題太遠啦。
原則三 留意潛藏在教材與其他地方的研究主題Be alert to potential topics in course material and elsewhere
Sometimes the perfect topic is perfectly hidden … right under your nose. When an assignment is given in a class, the tendency is to focus on the assignment as if it exists separate from the rest of your intellectual activity. Not true. Assignments do not occur in vacuums. They are part of what is going on around you in the class—and outside the class. All knowledge is part of the same intellectual continuum; the sooner this is understood, the fuller a learning experience becomes.
So the first place to begin a search for a topic is in the class material itself. Lectures. Textbooks. Laboratory or field experiences. Even conversations with classmates contain the seeds of ideas. This might seem to be a superfluous suggestion, yet too many students turn off their minds when the class bell rings, or a formal discussion period ends. Learning to listen engagingly at unstructured times and to critically explore material in depth will help the topic search.
The other great place to look for topical revelation is in wholly unrelated reading material. Almost regardless of how specialized a research assignment is, valuable insight can be gleaned from general circulation publications. Sometimes a popular writer's approach to a completely different subject can suggest a new academic approach. Or a word might jump out that sparks fresh thinking. The world is awash with ideas. Splash around in it and see what you can find.
原則四 保持心胸開放 Keep an open mind
This suggestion really shouldn't be necessary. An open mind should be a chief characteristic of any writer laboring in the academic field. The whole purpose of academia is to learn and, in the learning, to expand the body of knowledge that undergirds understanding and progress. Learning is stifled by barriers to learning; the most insidious of these is the closed mind. So in searching for a research topic, an academic writer should be open to virtually all possibilities.
One of the indicators of openness is the capacity for surprise. When a mind is partly or entirely shuttered, it is less receptive to peripheral flashes of insight. It is so focused on a preconceived agenda that it simply doesn't sense glancing inspiration. A writer open to inspiration is more apt to be startled by a new thought, which might enter his mind through an unrelated conversation. Such revelations are the direct result of a person's willingness to be surprised.
The rest of the story is how a surprising idea is handled. A closed-minded person dismisses such an idea because it disrupts his ordered mindset. An open-minded person muses upon it. Explores it. Evaluates it. Weighs it. Only then might the person drop the idea because it is found to be wanting or, better yet, to abandon it in favor of yet another idea spawned by the first one. The beauty of openness is that it is expansive in nature. Growth and learning are the natural results.
原則五 判斷主題的深度和廣度 Determine the depth and breadth of a possible topic
This suggestion might seem to put an extra burden on a writer, but the opposite is the case. Nothing is more difficult than to write in depth on a topic that is shallow. Nothing is more challenging than to write substantively about a subject that is transparently simplistic. In such cases, writers resort to setting up straw arguments, belaboring the obvious, and larding the paper with adjectives, adverbs, general wordiness, and sometimes the kitchen sink and cabinetry.
Know thy topic—but not too quickly. If a writer can instantly see how to proceed with writing about a possible topic, the topic probably is too facile to seriously consider. Genuinely complex topics for a paper are not that transparent. They are too deep to have their bottoms seen. They hide undercurrents of information that only can be discovered by diving into them. On the other hand, sometimes they are too deep for a paper. Discerning a topic's depth is important.
The other important dimension to consider is breadth. A topic worth writing about should have wide enough application to have value beyond whatever grade is earned by its writer. For example, the pin oak tree might be too narrow a biological topic unless one incorporates the tree's migration to Australia. On the other hand, as with depth, a topic can be too broad to be addressed in a paper. A thorough survey of depth and breadth is key in any topic selection.
原則六 力求主題創新Strive for originality in a topic
The old saying is that there is nothing new under the sun. Even sayings are old. It is true that the first writer of an academic paper could choose from a longer list of unwritten-about topics than is possible to find today. Consequently, a search now for an original topic is much longer. In fact, a wholly original subject might not exist, depending upon the discipline. Still, enough nuances do exist to allow today's writers to bring fresh perspective to a topic, and that is sufficient.
The first rule in the search for an original topic is that a writer must want to find one. While a student's willingness to tiresomely revisit a tired subject will satisfy an assignment, it will not land the student a grade in the upper echelon of scores. Those are reserved for fresh thinkers. So in considering a topic, examine it from the standpoint of (1) how often it has been addressed and (2) how much fresh insight is possible this time around. If it fails this freshness test, drop it.
Selection of a topic gives a professor a glimpse of the character of a student. Academic writers are first of all academic thinkers whose brains are attuned to challenge, discovery, and the search for information that expands the common base of knowledge. Any student unwilling to put real effort into this process is only loitering in the academic realm, rather than establishing himself there. A serious search for original material is one of the defining markers of a serious student.
原則七 勇敢探索學科的邊緣領域Don’t be afraid to explore the edge of a subject
As in the previous guideline about an original topic, this suggestion is about how to make a paper distinctive from hundreds of similar papers. The recommendation is to look toward the edges of a subject where previous researchers have been reluctant to explore. After all, while plowing the same ground sometimes turns up new topical material, an aspiring researcher is very likely to find fresher, more compelling information by turning over rocks on the edge of the field.
Working the edges of a subject doesn't lessen the value of a paper. Content is king regardless of where it is found. Relevancy is not related to how central a topic is, but how it contributes to the overall understanding of a subject. For example, everyone might know that a minor emperor was a stout man, yet no one know that he secretly wore a padded cummerbund to enhance his girth, believing it befit his rank. Such revelation can introduce new psychological perspective.
Looking to the edge of a subject for new topical material is not the same as being edgy, though being edgy is OK. Edgy might be defined as flirting with irrelevancy by looking “way out there” for a topic. The key is not to drift so far from a core subject that one loses sight of an assignment. Professors are not amused by such independence. Nevertheless, one should feel free to explore the entire range of a subject, hither and yon, with an open mind about what you discover yon .
原則八 尋找耐人尋味、有啟發力的題目Find a topic that is intriguing or can teach
In choosing a research paper topic, a writer should make a genuine effort to find one that forces him to learn something. This rule is a tough one for someone who already knows it all. For the rest of us, it applies. A familiar topic not only is more likely to have been beaten to death by previous writers, it is apt to produce nothing new. Whereas an intriguing topic will spur a curious researcher to dig, and the writer's evident conviction will come through in the paper.
Obviously, a writer can be too ambitious. Even when preliminary research indicates a plethora of sources are available on a topic of genuine interest, the time allowed to plumb them all might be too short. Or the complexity of a multi-layered topic might preclude handling the topic in a single paper. So finding a possible topic to be interesting is only good to a point; it also must be a topic that is suitable for encapsulating in a research paper of finite length.
In short, daring to delve into unfamiliar territory is a test of one's desire to produce a paper of worth. It is an indicator of the mindset of an academic writer. Unwillingness to explore and to risk failure in a quest for learning suggests that a writer is a poseur. The cachet of scholarship and academia—and, of course, the incredible benefit of knowledge—is enviable, but the prestige comes from hard work and exemplary conviction. In other words, the title “scholar” is earned.