Research topics on English Literature initially start off broad and then narrow down and you come up with your thesis. Using any of the research topics listed to the left (gender, comparisons, historical background, politics, and religion) can take you almost anywhere. Choose your general topic based on your literature class you’re writing for. If it’s a class focused on gender, start there and then branch out to something like my example of how the roles of men and women are portrayed.
Knowing first your general topic and then what kind of essay or paper you’re researching for (argumentative, persuasive, etc.) can help you decide what to do with it next when it comes to narrowing it down. Remember this isn’t concrete. Your topic can grow and completely change as you research. Choosing the literature topic is just the key to getting started.
When it comes to English Literature, there’s no end to the topics that you can research on that novel or other piece that you’ve been reading. The easiest way to get an idea for that next research topic on English literature for your essay is to start broad and then work toward making it more specific and interesting for your readers. Here are a few examples of research topics in literature to get you started (for a more extensive list of research topics in literature, please check out the link that can be found at the bottom of this article):
1. Gender roles
How are the roles of men and women portrayed in the novel? Are they distinctly different? Do they have equal rights? What gender expectations do they follow or fight against?
2. Comparisons between genres
How does each genre tell its story? What are the differences and similarities between the two? Is one more effective than the other?
3. Historical background
Who is the author and what is their story? Were there controversies associated with him/her or their work? What is the significance of this novel in the time it was written? How does it reflect the society and beliefs of its time?
What issues in politics does this novel address? Discrimination? Rights? Equality?
How is this novel religious? What beliefs is it promoting or questioning?
6. Comparisons between two characters
This can be between characters in the same novel or two different ones. How are their differences and similarities important to the novel?
7. Comparisons between two novels
If the novels seem completely different but represent the same genre or come from the same time period, this may be something you want to explore.
8. Allusions within the novel
What are some significant allusions within the novel? These could be religious, refer to other novels or authors, etc. How is this important to understanding the novel and its place in English Literature?
What are some of the most notable criticisms out there? What is your response and how does it compare to other critics out there?
What are important symbols in the novel? How are they significant?
The following can also be used for any other type of research projects for English Literature where you need to find your own topic.
So, you’ve finally made it to your last year at your university and you’ve got one last thing to do before you leave: the dreaded Capstone Project. Have no fear; although it is time consuming and stressful work, it is possible to turn all that work into something fun, as long as you choose the right topic in English literature to write about. The key to going out with a bang with a fantastic Capstone is to choose something you actually care about.
Of all the aspects of this project, choosing the right research topic is absolutely key. Choose the wrong one, and you may not meet the requirements or, worse, you may dislike it enough to have to change it halfway through the class. For the first time in four years, teachers are giving you the reigns and having you decide what you want to write about. No more prompts telling you what to do, except for the guidelines for your project, and no more focusing on one aspect of a novel that the prof tells you to.
So don’t freak out, think of it as the best part of your university experience yet. Now’s the time to show your stuff and let everyone see how much of a successful English literature nerd you’ve turned out to be. If you can do it yourself, you’ve proved yourself worthy of that snazzy degree they’re about to hand you in a couple months. Of course if you’ve made it to this point, there’s no way you’re not worthy.
My Capstone class was titled “The Age of Novels” and focused on the rise of the novel during the eighteenth century. Basically, we looked at how the novel developed into what we see as a novel today, considering how writers presented and executed their works of fiction, who influenced them, and how they influenced others. We also looked at literary techniques such as psychological realism and the differing roles of men and women in the formation of this most popular form of writing.
My class was focused on topics such as psychological realism and gender roles so this is something that I kept in the back of my mind as I read through the novel I chose to research.
I’m going to use my own experience in the Capstone Project as an example for how to choose a research topic in English literature.
I know your Capstone won’t be on the same topic, but it’s still important to know the basic focus of the class in order to get to your literature research topic. Look at the prompt for your English class and see what sticks out to you.
After reading through the required reading in my class, I decided to veer away from novels of formal realism and go into the Gothic realm with M.G. Lewis’s The Monk, which was completely unexplored in the class. Not only do I love Gothic literature, but this was a great way for me to draw comparisons with the books of the same period without doing the same old thing we were doing in the classroom. I was killing two birds with one stone, as they say; getting to read a novel in the genre I’m most interested in while still exploring the same prompts the class was focused on.
Sometimes, if you’re stuck on an English literature research topic, starting at a completely new angle can help you find something really interesting to work on. After you get to know the ins and outs of what your class is about, it’s easy to go off in another direction and work your way back into what you’ve been learning about. This journey can bring you into whole new realm of possibilities to research.
Now, as you read the book of your choice (or your professor’s), focus on one or more aspects from your English literature class prompt so that your research topic relates to the actual class you’re taking. I decided to focus on chastity within the novel and how the gothic novel portrays male and female chastity versus the novels of formal realism. This English literature research topic took a lot of work to get to. Don’t be afraid of setbacks or having to start over.
The best way initially is to write down a broad topic to research and then list any information relevant to that topic. It doesn’t matter how insignificant the piece of information may seem, list it. Then go through and see what interesting conclusions you can make from the information. Looking at gender, how are males portrayed versus females? Looking at genre, how is the gothic novel different from a formal realism novel?
Putting things out on paper is the best way to get it all out in the open and free your mind that’s jumbled with information. Once it’s on paper, you can actually look at it all and piece it all into one neat picture (through words of course) that anyone can understand. Without doing this, it’s like trying to put together a puzzle with all of the pieces turned down, so you aren’t sure which ones actually go together.
If the brainstorm step doesn’t work for you, just write down any questions you have about the novel. If you noticed that there was a lot of religious references and ideas in the novel, maybe you’d be curious to know the author’s biography and see how that plays a significant role in the piece. For my own example, I could have asked myself “what is gothic” or “how did eighteenth century England define chastity?” After this brief research, go back through your notes and see if you can come up with an interesting topic you can do further research on for that English literature essay.
Looking at what you’ve put together in your brainstorm, it’s easy to see where you need to do research on the novel. No one wants a paper full of generalizations so take each topic you can’t automatically define and start researching it. Do you know how to define gothic or formal realism? Research it. What were the gender expectations for this time? Research it. You want to go as in depth into your topic as possible, which involves even more research than reading two or three novels.
It also doesn’t help to learn some background on the author. Were they a rebel or a strict conservative? Was this novel popular? How did it affect the readers of its time? For example, Lewis was actually brought to court for The Monk because it was seen as a bad influence for his female readers. This is something not only interesting but relevant to the topic of female chastity in my chosen English literature research topic for my essay.
Doing some background research on the novel like this can bring ideas together into a thesis for your paper and lead you in a solid direction for your actual research for your paper. If you haven’t finally figured something out by this point, you may have to consult your professor.
Thesis: Lewis’s novel completely undoes the plots, tropes, and principles of Richardson and Fielding’s formal realism, not only through its use of superstition and other Gothic elements, but also in the development and resolution of each of these character’s stories. Instead of providing a positive example, The Monk gives a horrifying one to instill fear in its readership to preserve the same virtue.
1. What is a gothic novel?
2. Pamela Andrews
3. Joseph Andrews
4. What is formal realism?
5. What is a gothic novel?
6. Gothic novel versus formal realism
8. Joseph Andrews
10. Pamela Andrews
Test it with an outline.
If you aren’t sure you’ve got the right topic to come up with a twenty-some-odd page essay, outline what you’ve got so far. I like to do a very basic outline, starting with my thesis (in its rough draft form of course) at the very top. Next I write what each paragraph will be about. If it’s a twenty page paper, you may write about two to three paragraphs a page so you will need to have at least 10 paragraphs.
Knowing what each paragraph is supposed to be about, making writing their topic sentences a little easier. Sometimes you may find that a research topic is broad enough to be able to split into two paragraphs, this is handy if you couldn’t initially list at least ten topics. For example, just saying Pamela Andrews for one of my paragraph topics doesn’t cover what I want to say. I may just give a brief overview of her character or provide why her character is significant to formal realism.
Example of a research topic turning into a topic sentence:
1. What is a gothic novel?
“It is important, when studying this novel, to examine what defines a Gothic novel in relation to eighteenth-century definitions of novel-writing.”
This leads to questions of “why is this important?” and, of course, “what is Gothic?” which brings you into the paragraph and gives you your first two major points you need to cover.
Just remember that the key to choosing a research topic for English Literature is to start broad. Read the novel and remember to focus on your own class’s focus or on whatever interests you most. From there, you can branch out to almost any research topic, it just takes some work to get there.