Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Education



First Reader/Committee Chair

Howard, Kathryn


When deciding on topics for academic research papers, many students face difficulties that vary from choosing themes whose scope is too extensive to be satisfactorily analyzed in the given task, to selecting topics that are too limited, to not being able to make a decision on a topic at all. Such struggles seem to manifest themselves in both native and non-native speakers of English. Despite extensive research on the writing process and its strategies, be it for academic writing or other genres, and even research focused on writers’ difficulties, previous research has found little about the troubles students must overcome when deciding on a research topic, and how to overcome them.

This study employed a qualitative case study design with two graduate students in a master’s program in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, who were enrolled in two sections of a course on research, to investigate these students’ writing processes as they defined a topic for their literature review research paper. Through an in-depth analysis of samples of their writing in combination with their verbal reports, collected during individual semi-structured interviews, this case study examined how two graduate students successfully calibrated their topics, which strategies they employed to that end, and how their instructors’ actions helped them in the process. Consequently, the findings shed light on instructional practices, and their implications for teachers’ training programs.