Skip to main content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Scholarly Writing in Nursing

This guide assists students and faculty in Nursing
Coming up with a suitable topic is the key to a research assignment! It is very difficult to write about things you have very little knowledge on, but that is exactly what is expected in many assignments! You need to allow yourself time to explore general topic areas, rather than jumping straight into searching databases or the web for information on the first topic that pops into your mind. You also need to carefully examine your assignment to ensure that you start on the right track. Often, during this stage of the search process, you may have feelings of uncertainty and apprehension (reach out to your embedded librarian!).

Research Strategies

The purpose of this phase is to identify and select a general topic. To do this, you will want to:

Read your assignment carefully - note important details of the assignment prior to commencing thinking about a topic. How many pages, 5 or 15, makes a difference in the focus of a topic and the resources you may consult. Often, the assignment's instructions will indicate the number of sources you need, how current the sources must be, and whether you need to use primary or secondary sources. Other considerations include the due date (will you have time to retrieve information from interlibrary loan, interview experts, etc.?), what the paper is worth, where are marks assigned (introduction, abstract, citation style, etc.). Spend time planning with respect to assignment guidelines so that you start on the right track from the beginning!

Read your lecture notes for ideas - note interesting topics that have been discussed, or will be covered in upcoming lectures. Review recommended reading lists and your textbook, and course outline for topics and themes that might spark good research questions. Consider possible topics based on personal interest in light of assignment requirements and time commitments.

Talk to others - discuss possible topics with classmates, friends, even family. Consult with informal experts (e.g. professional in the fields, embedded librarian). Make an appointment with your professor to discuss preliminary topic ideas.

Most importantly, start NOW - it is important to start considering and weighing potential topics as soon as you know that you have a research assignment. Do not wait until a couple of weeks before the assignment is due. Beginning early allows you to explore a variety of topics, rather than being "stuck" with a topic of little personal interest.

Writing Strategies

Although you may view writing as the final step in the research process, writing can be a useful tool for exploring topics, formulating a research focus, and organizing ideas. Here are a few strategies that can be helpful when exploring topics for research:

  • Brainstorming. List all the ideas and information about your topic that you can think of; try to get as many ideas on paper as you can, without worrying about the quality of those ideas. By focusing on what you want to know, you may identify a promising topic for research and inquiry.

  • Focused freewriting. Write non-stop on your topic for 10 or 15 minutes without worrying about content or grammar. Then highlight ideas and passages to explore further through another round of freewriting. As you continue looping through this process, you may see a fruitful line of inquiry emerging for your research.

  • Mind mapping / webbing. For a visual approach to generating and exploring ideas, try mind mapping. For several examples, visit here and here.  When mapping ideas, try to keep related ideas together, experiment with the use of color coding, and add questions that occur to you.

  • Exploring various perspectives on your topic. Systematically brainstorming questions related to various perspectives may lead you to interesting research questions.
  • Using the journalist’s 5W questions-- Who, What, When, Where, Why, plus How.

It Will Be Ok

The Topic Selection Phase is often characterized by uncertainty and apprehension, but also anticipation as it can be exciting to learn about a new topic area!


Not understanding the assignment - you may feel uncertain about the assignment when you read through it at first. It may seem overwhelming, difficult, or even impossible. However, spending time reviewing all the criteria for the assignment helps to alleviate some uncertainty. Often professors provide detailed instructions in the assignment that you need to consider even before choosing your general topic.

Not knowing anything about a topic - professors often provide a list of topics from which you can pick. You may be apprehensive when scanning the list and realizing you don't know anything about any of the proposed topics. Or you are able to choose your own topic for the research paper, but you are unable to do so because you don't know anything yet about the topics discussed in class. You can alleviate some of your apprehension by starting to think about appropriate topics right at the beginning of the semester. As new ideas are presented in class and your assigned readings, your knowledge base builds so that you can make a more informed decision on topic selection.