I seem to be a bit stuck here. I am reading quite a lot, but I cannot find a topic to write about, which is original and which I could then publish as a paper. I am in the Humanities, so it's basically just about reading, reading, reading (so no research in a lab or something).

Are there strategies for this? What would you recommend a young scholar does to publish more and find interesting things to write about?

PS: I know that this question will not receive an entirely objective answer, but there might still be some proven strategies or insights that could alleviate some concerns.

2 Answers 2


You're thinking about this the wrong way; if do not have a topic you want to write about - then don't write.

I'm not being flippant: You should write and publish something if you feel it's important to express in writing and to disseminate. Don't try to produce publications for publication's sake.

But maybe it's the other way around: You're frustrated about being so passive - like you said, just "reading, reading, reading" - rather than producing something written. Well, in that case, instead of thinking about what to write, think about what you want to know or figure out. What questions about human society (be it history, sociology, psychology or whatever you're focused on) intrigue you?

When you have your questions, you look for what's already been written or said. If it's sufficient - then you had an interesting read and can perhaps put the knowledge to some use; and if there isn't a definite answer to your question - that's what you can contemplate, explore, study, and eventually publish about yourself.

Edit: I gave a general answer, but your tags suggest you are in grad school. If that's the case, then also consider:

  • You have an advisor. Talk to him/her about this - that's what s/he's there for.
  • If you've submitted a research proposal, then you've asked yourself some of these research questions already. Are you actually looking into them? Do you have satisfying answers to them?
  • 3
    I am a PhD student and your sentence really added a bit of motivation to my goal "You should write and publish something if you feel it's important to express and disseminate. Don't publish for publication's sake." Thank you so much.
    – Coder
    Commented Feb 11, 2018 at 14:29
  • 1
    I'm also finding this answer incredibly helpful, thanks so much. I do not want to publish for publications sake, but I do know that I need to start publishing if I want to survive in academia. I do have some topics I am very interested in, but I do not yet seem to have found the right questions to ask. I feel some people in academia have just "figured out how it works" as it were, and they just publish paper after paper and find all those gaps, but maybe I am just not asking enough questions. I am quite frustrated being so passive, but maybe I just have to get my questions straight... Commented Feb 11, 2018 at 14:29
  • @R.Kohlisch: Yeah, there's definitely a "paper mill" in academia, which very often people need to be on to secure their employment, or funding, or have an excuse to go to conferences etc. And while you might end up needing to get on it at some point - hopefully never - your soul is better off not getting into that kind of mindset.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Feb 11, 2018 at 14:34
  • Still, it's also the case that as you know more about what parts of your subfield different people are working on, and what research questions interest everybody who's somebody - you also start noticing those gaps where it would be easier to produce a worthy publishable paper.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Feb 11, 2018 at 14:34
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    I'm in engineering and teaching and you say you are in the Humanities, well, perhaps it is not in papers you should be looking. By that I mean should you be "out" in society talking to people and maybe that will give you the spark you are looking for.
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Feb 11, 2018 at 20:18

I am in a different field and I am almost in a similar situation where I am interested to work on something original. However, getting started is bit difficult at this point.

As pointed out by @einpoklum in their answer, 'You should write and publish something if you feel it's important to express and disseminate. Don't publish for publication's sake.' This seems to be a great piece of advice.

In my field (engineering), we do read a lot of papers; but, I read it differently.

Case A:

  • Read a paper that reports a new method M to solve a problem P.
  • Find out the limitations of the method when P changes a bit.
  • Can method M be improved to fit the new problem P'.

Case B:

  • Read a experimental paper.
  • Find out the outcomes of the experiments and all its parameters.
  • What happens the method in experiment if the problem changes? (a vice-versa to Case A)

Case C:

  • Start exploring a problem which has never been solved (an open problem).
  • Do there exist some approximation methods for this problem? What are their results?
  • Can it be solved in an alternative way?

I am really not sure whether it would fit to humanity field.

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