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I teach a writing course designed to prepare international students for graduate school, mostly social science majors. The students have no experience writing academic papers. I have found that lists of sample TOEFL and GRE writing topics, such as this list of sample writing topics found at ETS, serve as good essay topics for these students so that they can practice organizing their ideas in writing. These topics are: (1) simple; (2) can be addressed by students from any major or culture; (3) and can be supported by the students' opinions, not research.

Next term, the course will focus on introducing research methods. Were can I find topics that are: (1) similarly simple; (2) can be handled by students from any major; but that (3) will require students to rely on academic journals for support? I need students to practice gathering information, evaluating the credibility of sources, and assembling their ideas and evidence without getting bogged down in the complexity of the subject.

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    As far as I am concerned research methods are disciplinary in nature. Even restricting your topics to social sciences, and your research skill focus to literature reviews, I'm not sure you're going to be able to craft topics suitable for all social science disciplines. – Samuel Russell Nov 3 '13 at 3:01
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When I have taught research methods for undergraduate work, I find that it is best to give the students a lot of freedom while still requiring acceptance for the topics. I do not think giving a list of acceptable topics is the way to pique the interest of students.

It is better in my experience to guide them and let them know that they know their field better than anyone outside of that field, so they are capable of finding a suitable topic by themselves.

I have had students who choose "I want to study the effect of someone smiling at you." It could be an interesting topic but, since my students are all business majors, I give them the restriction is that it must be related to business. When they submit this topic, I hand it back and ask them "How does this relate to business as I said all research in this module must?"

I guess I could provide them a list but I really think that will just end up limiting them. Better to coax them out of their shell and get them to really start thinking and choosing and living with the consequences of their decisions.

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As far as I am concerned research methods are disciplinary in nature. Even restricting your topics to social sciences, and your research skill focus to literature reviews, I'm not sure you're going to be able to craft topics suitable for all social science disciplines.

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