High school research writing: Topic and audience

by | Mar 3, 2019 | College Prep, Essays & Research Papers, High school

Let’s take a look at the HOW of teaching research writing. This article covers the Research Writing Process from Steps 1 to 5: Narrowing a topic and choosing your audience.

Welcome to Part 2 of our research writing series. In Part 1, we covered the WHO, WHAT, WHEN, and WHERE of research writing. If you missed the first article, you can catch it here.

Let’s take a look at the HOW of teaching research writing. This article covers the Research Writing Process from Steps 1 to 5: Narrowing a topic and choosing your audience.

Before You Begin

Is your teen ready for research writing?

To complete a research project of this nature, students must have a solid foundation in both paragraph and sentence structure. If your teen hasn’t successfully completed WriteShop I and WriteShop II (or the equivalent), begin here.

A word about brainstorming

Don’t let that blank sheet of paper intimidate your kids! They need to have a plan before they sit down to write, which is why every writing assignment should start with brainstorming. (Students will actually brainstorm several times during the writing process.)

Always brainstorm out loud with your teen—ideas flow when two minds work together. As you bounce things around, write everything down. You can decide what to keep or toss later on. For now, remember there’s no such thing as a bad idea; the craziest notion could lead to a moment of brilliance!

Try different ways of brainstorming. Here are several ideas:

  • Take notes on the whiteboard.
  • Write on poster board.
  • Use sticky notes – they’re great for clustering ideas!
  • Write on butcher paper with a marker.
  • Make a list in a single-subject spiral notebook.
  • (You) write while your kid walks around in circles and thinks out loud.

Step 1 – Brainstorm for a Research Writing Topic

Your student’s first step is to come up with some research topics. Don’t worry about whether those ideas will actually stick. For now, just brainstorm for 5-10 possible topics. If your teen has trouble thinking of potential themes, you’ll find lists and lists of research topics online.

Step 2 – Do Preliminary Research

From the Step 1 brainstorming list, students should identify their top three ideas and do some preliminary research on each. If they can’t answer yes to both of these questions, that topic needs to go.

  • Can I find academic sources?
  • Can I find enough material to write a paper on this topic?

Show them how to search using Google Scholar. This database is chockful of free academic sources.

What is an academic source?

An academic source is any printed material written by an authority. Generally, college professors limit or ban .com URLs, so make sure Internet sources come from .edu, .gov, or .org. If your kids like videos, YouTube videos from experts may also work well as sources.

For starters, look for TED talks, scientific-research videos, university course lectures, or seminars conducted by verified experts in the field.

100 Search Engines for Academic Research features general sources as well as specific, including science, technology, social sciences, history, and economics.

Step 3 – Pick a Topic and Choose an Audience

Once students finish their preliminary research, they can pick their favorite research writing topic. Note of caution: Make sure it’s an issue you don’t mind that they delve into.

Consider your audience

It’s easier for students to write a paper when they know their audience. They can picture who they’re writing to—and can address their wants and needs.

Ask your teens to think about their topic. Who is most likely to appreciate their argument? Grandparents? Company executives? Church members? Farmers? Parents of teenagers? City council members? Business owners?

Next, have students consider what this audience might want. They should ask themselves: What does my audience value? What do they care most (or least) about?

Example: For a paper about tattoos, I would choose an audience of 17- to 25-year-old young adults.

Write the topic as a statement

I want to explore and explain why people get tattoos, and then I want to persuade my audience to think before they ink.

These statements can change depending on stance the writer wants to take.

Step 4 – Brainstorm KEY WORDS

Yep. We’re brainstorming again! This time, though, students brainstorm key words related to their research writing topic. List these under the topic statement.

Start with the words in the topic statement. My list would include tattooing, inking, tattoo artists, tattoo mishaps, legal age for tattoos, state laws, federal laws, young people. Next, students expand the list to include subtopic words and phrases:

  • psychological effects of tattoos
  • misconceptions of tattoos
  • history of age-limit for alcohol
  • medical problems with tattoos
  • tattoo dye
  • ink poisoning
  • tattoos in the workplace
  • job discrimination

  • tips for covering tattoos
  • reasons people get tattoos
  • percentages of people who have tattoos
  • statistics of people who have tattoos
  • addictive to tattooing
  • qualifications of tattoo artists
  • tattoo removal

Step 5 – Create questions

It’s time to brainstorm again! What do your teens want to know about these subtopics? What does their audience want to know?

  • Using their key words as a springboard, students write as many questions as they can. For example: Why do young people get tattoos? What ingredients are in tattoo ink? Which employers frown at hiring people with visible tattoos?
  • Write each question at the top of a new page in spiral-bound notebook.
  • Skip three or four pages between each question to save room for notes.

Coming up: Part 3 of the series concludes with note-taking, writing, editing, and evaluating. Come back next time as we walk through Steps 6-11.


As WriteShop’s curriculum consultant, Misti Lacy draws from her years of experience as a veteran writing teacher and homeschool mom to help you build a solid writing foundation. Whether you’re deciding on products for your family, exploring our program for your school or co-op, or needing someone to walk you through your WriteShop curriculum, Misti is your girl! She has a heart for building relationships with you and your kids, and through her warm encouragement, she takes the fear out of teaching writing. 

Contact Misti today! She’s delighted to walk with you along your WriteShop journey.

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