Which do you prefer, being assigned a particular topic by a professor, or being asked to write on the topic of your choice?
At first glance it may seem easier to not have to conjure a topic on your own. Being assigned something takes that step out of your hands and might seem like "less work." But one thing I learned through my 15 years as a student in higher education (don't ask!) is that my best work, and the work that was the easiest and at times even fun, was the work that I chose to do myself.
Obviously, you have to choose a topic in line with the subject of the course. Still, I can't think of very many topics that don't relate in some way to nearly every subject! For example, in my undergraduate days, I was focusing on the break-up of Yugoslavia.
[Language has always been a passion of mine, and I can't get enough of learning about other cultures. I go through phases. At the time of my later undergrad years, I was into the Slavic cultures. I learned Serbo-Croatian in my language classes before Yugoslavia broke apart, so that when the events unfolded I was very interested in the causes and the prospects for the future. By then I also had friends from the region.]
In my economics class that semester I chose to focus on the economic causes of the conflicts between the different Yugoslav states; in my sociology class my paper focused on the historic ethnic struggles of the region in the pre-communist era; the paper for my European history class was a no-brainer, obviously! And for my political science class, I was able to use everything I learned doing research for the other classes to write about how Tito was the glue that held everything together. When he died, it all fell apart and it would have been an easy thing to predict. (The social, economic and political history of the area had never been stable, except during the communist regime of President Josip Broz Tito... for better or worse.)
And so it is with most topics. What is your passion? How does it relate to economics, society, history, education? Even if the thing that interests you the most is as simple as "music," you can research all of these aspects easily.
- Economics - How have the economics of the music industry changed? What impact has self-publishing, file sharing, and the phenomena of online ticket sales & reselling on sites like EBay had on the individual musicians and/or the industry?
- Sociology and/or Psychology - Has music become more "violent"or "subversive"over the years? How does music reflect the state of society? What effect (if any) do warning labels have on the production or dissemination
- History - How has the production and distribution of music changed over the years? What has stayed the same. How does music tell stories about history. What music is a direct result of the literature of the time?
- Education - Does listening to music while you're studying help or hurt your grades? Does type of studying (memorization or review, writing or math calculations) matter?
When you choose a topic that grabs your interest, you'll already have the background information to know the right questions to ask. The research process will be interesting, the writing much easier, and in the end you will have something to show off. After all, we usually hang around with people who share our interests. You'll be the one with the party trivia about their favorite topic!