It does happen. You got excited about the Extended Project Qualification. You couldn’t wait to write about anything you could possibly write about. You had grand plans to span English literature and media studies, biochemistry and maths. The freedom was amazing – thrilling.
And then, when you actually had to get down to the crunch to choosing your research topic, you stalled. All those paper topics rushed out of your head. You felt dry as a bone, without inspiration, actually wishing that you could just go back to being told what to do. Freedom, as philosophers have been saying for centuries, is just too scary. (‘Why is freedom so scary?’, by the way, might make a wonderful research question.)
However, if you are going to go through with the EPQ – if you are going to practise your academic writing skills and apply for university with it through UCAS – you are going to have to pull a research paper topic out of somewhere. This is just an unfortunate fact. And, honestly, it does help if you are choosing a topic that is good.
That’s what we’re going to be looking at here: how to select a topic that is going to make an EPQ of which you can be proud. Because, whilst it can be anything under the sun, it has to be of the correct scale, it has to be possible within the given timetable, and it should really avoid the more controversial topics. And by that we mean less the academically controversial topics and more the downright illicit, inappropriate, or illegal.
So, without further ado, let’s see how you can choose a perfect EPQ topic. You can read our overview of the EPQ here too!
What Should an EPQ Topic Be?
Before we start with some topic ideas, let’s have a look at what the guidelines say on the issue of choosing a topic.
So, firstly, Edexcel give two possible options for research paper topics – either the ‘dissertation’ or the ‘investigation / field study’.
They describe a dissertation as the following: “a theoretical written project on any topic presenting an argument, e.g. research into a biological, historical or environmental issue”. That seems fairly straightforward.
Meanwhile, they describe the investigation as “a practical investigatory project involving the collection of data, e.g. a scientific investigation, a geographical study of erosion, a biological study of pollution, a statistical survey”. Again, this seems like a simple concept to grasp.
A Bit More Nuance
However, the nuances of what is expected here become clearer when we look at what AQA have to say on the matter. They give five different criteria for what characterises good and feasible topic ideas:
- Does the title and topic allow you to plan, research, analyse, evaluate, and explain? You aren’t going to do very well (in the essay at least) if you just describe or narrate.
- Can you do what the topic needs you to do in the timescale and word count and with the resources and sources available?
- Are you actually going to be able to do this project on your own?
- Is there any risk that you won’t be as impartial as you should be?
- Will you understand the material that you are working with?
Even if you are doing the Edexcel qualification, these are the questions you are going to have to ask yourself before you decide on your topic and start your research process.
It really does leave you quite a lot of scope, so go wild. Both exam boards also mention that your EPQ project doesn’t need to have anything to do with any of the essay topics you are studying for your A Level courses or that you studied for your GCSEs. It can be anything that interests you – literally anything.
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How to Choose a Topic for Your Extended Project Qualification
So, let’s get down to it and investigate the best way that you can find your research problem. It’s going to take a bit of work from you – as we here can’t tell you what subjects you like to study.
That’s where it all begins. It ends with you with a series of research questions – or even just the single one. However, it is the question that you are looking for.
Check out what the EPQ is!
Think about What You Like – and What You Could Keep on Liking
The thesis that you need to write for the EPQ can be on literally anything. Consequently, when you are thinking about potential topics for your paper, you need to think through two things: what interests me right now? And what would interest me even when I am in the depth of the writing process?
These need to be research topics with legs. You need to feel quite comfortable that they will take you – you, not the reader – beyond the title page.
So, think about it. What do you like? What would you like to know more about? Write it all down if it helps.
Start with a General Subject, Broadly
We imagine that you’ll probably have some vague idea of the subject area – roughly speaking. You’ll probably have some sort of sense whether you would prefer something that generally revolves around the science and maths part of the world, or the more English or history.
If you don’t, that’s your place to start. If you do, break it down into something more specific. This, really, is the name of the game.
If you are interested in history, what sort of period are we talking? What country? If science, which science? Would you want it to involve fieldwork or just a dissertation?
Go through all the work you have done throughout your school career – from GCSE to sixth form and even before – and consider what was interesting for you and what wasn’t. Any inspiration will help.
Zoom in to Get More Specific
So, say you’ve chosen the Tudor period as something that you are interested in. Nice one. Now what? Clearly this is far too large a subject to be manageable in five thousand words, so what are you going to focus on?
Is there a character, like Thomas Cromwell or Thomas Wyatt, that is interesting to you? Or are you interested in the general political forces – like the economic downturn between 1547 and 1558?
Again, keep thinking about which topic would keep you interested for the whole period of the EPQ. Even the best research papers get boring for the one writing them – so give yourself the best opportunity for enjoyment throughout.
Hone Down the Title (You’re Looking for a Specific Question)
At this point, we know the specific area we are going to be looking at. Great! We’re sure it is very interesting.
However, you will need to ensure that, in your paper, there is a clear argumentative structure. And this will come through the framing of the question. Knowing the topic is great; fine-tuning the question is a different skill.
So, say you are looking at Thomas Cromwell. You could choose a title like ‘Thomas Cromwell: Politics and Power in the Tudor Court’. However, this is absolutely useless for your purposes. Get specific.
‘To what extent did Thomas Cromwell’s relationship with Thomas Cranmer affect the course of the English Reformation in the 1530s?’ would be a better question. It’s specific, it is precise, and it allows you to argue for and against. As the specifications linked above show, this is much better than merely narrating or describing.
Find out about the Extended Project presentation!
Some EPQ Topic Ideas to Get You Thinking
Given that the possibilities are so wide, your ultimate EPQ topic will depend upon what your personal preferences, interests, and tastes are. As such, we cannot give you the specific question that you will be able to use. Rather, you have to find your own inspiration.
However, we can have a look here at the different possibilities, so that you can get a sense of how your questions need to be framed.
- What is beauty in mathematics?
- Why did the Paris Commune of 1871 fail?
- Is the UK government capable of responding to the climate emergency?
- To what extent has social media caused political instability in Europe?
- In what ways could we better prevent the outbreak of epidemics such as the Coronavirus?
- Should the poetry of JH Prynne be more highly regarded?
- What sociological differences are there between rural and urban locations in the UK?
Struggling to remember the benefits of the EPQ? Check out our article.