Research Topics in English Literature

Ideas for Writing Papers

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.

Finding and researching a good topic on English Literature takes time and patience.
Finding and researching a good topic on English Literature takes time and patience. | Source

Topics For English Literature Research Essays

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?

4. Politics

What issues in politics does this novel address? Discrimination? Rights? Equality?

5. Religion

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?

9. Criticism

What are some of the most notable criticisms out there? What is your response and how does it compare to other critics out there?

10. Symbolism

What are important symbols in the novel? How are they significant?

English Literature Research Projects

The following can also be used for any other type of research projects for English Literature where you need to find your own topic.

Researching for an English Literature essay can be tough but finding a topic you are really interested in helps make it easier.
Researching for an English Literature essay can be tough but finding a topic you are really interested in helps make it easier. | Source

How to Find an English Topic to Research For Any Project

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.

Example of a Researched Essay in English Literature

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.

How to Get Started on an English Literature Paper

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.

Brainstorming ideas while researching topics in English Literature
Brainstorming ideas while researching topics in English Literature | Source

How to Brainstorm Writing Ideas for Essays

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.

Ideas on Getting a Research Topic

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.

Writing Research Essays in Literature

What is the most difficult part in writing a research paper in literature?

  • Finding a topic
  • The research
  • The writing
  • All of the above
See results without voting

Tips for Researching Topics on English Literature

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.

Outline of an Example for an English Research Essay

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

7. Ambrosio

8. Joseph Andrews

9. Antonia

10. Pamela Andrews

How do you know it's a good research topic on English literature?

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.

© 2012 LisaKoski

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Comments 18 comments

theraggededge profile image

theraggededge 4 years ago from Wales

Very comprehensive - lots of ideas for jumping-off points. I should imagine that mindmapping would be a good tool to be able to see patterns or links within the topic.

Judi Bee profile image

Judi Bee 4 years ago from UK

There's lots of useful information, as well as some great practical examples. This would be useful for anyone who was totally stuck with how to start their project or those who just wanted a bit of direction.

Voted up etc.

EuroCafeAuLait profile image

EuroCafeAuLait 4 years ago from Croatia, Europe

Lots of great detail, original photo (with lovely pink fingernails) and plenty of examples, much like a well thought out recipe. Bookmarked and voted up + beautiful.

angela_michelle profile image

angela_michelle 4 years ago from United States

Oh boy, if only had I had this when I was going for my english degree. Would have been so helpful. LOL Great job!

Joan Whetzel 4 years ago

For my college Lit class, my topic was a comparison of short stories by O. Henry. Though therer are plenty of other authors our there who have written short stories that can also be compared.

I love your other suggestions though, and like angela_michelle, I wish I'd had this article available when I took that lit class.

Cheds profile image

Cheds 4 years ago from Maine

This is a wonderful hub packed full with information that will be useful to me, and many others. Nice work!

You do have one typo at the beginning. You left out the T in Suggested. Woops!

LisaKoski profile image

LisaKoski 4 years ago from WA Author

Thank you! I fixed the typo ;)

jimmythejock profile image

jimmythejock 4 years ago from Scotland

Great Ideas and information, thanks for sharing.....jimmy

ravindrapatil 4 years ago

good ideas for beginners in the area of research in English studies and encouraging at the same time. thank you!

busyguru profile image

busyguru 4 years ago from U.S.

Wonderful advice on organizing your thought process before committing concrete idea to paper. :)

bhise pradeep 3 years ago

It is wonderful page,,,,,,,,very useful tostudent......

Ema Nymton 3 years ago

Omg you saved me. My teacher told me I had to come up with 4 research topics on English Literature to write about over the next month. I am a fan of English Literature but I had no idea how to go about finding research topics on the subject...and now I do. Thanks, Lisa!

Ellie 3 years ago

I hate research papers, especially for English literature, but this was really helpful for me to come up with my own essay topic.

sadiabaloch 3 years ago

plzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz suggest me any good english literature topics for my thesis and also for my two friends ,i have to submit my thesis in the first week of july

AVINASH 3 years ago

Very informative and helpful for the beginners/strugglers have put your ideas in a very systematic manner that will help others to choose their topics of research......thanks...Please share more topics

anupma profile image

anupma 2 years ago from India

Informative hub. It is really very tough to choose topic for writing.

nisa 2 years ago


amfa7 18 months ago

For sometime now, I hardly read, just scan, but this one I did.

Very cohesively propounded on the art of writing.

Thank you.

For those still seeking help, like myself:

1-need to read the text

2-get familiar with the main events

3-know the characters

4-the various roles played by the characters

5-overall impression of the text - tragic,comic,tragic-comic,none.

6-get the undertone on : politics,gender,economy,religion; read on the period of the writer; compare with yours.

7-note the various plots within the main.

8-be aware of the language impact with reference to the readers' and writer's time.

9-read on current affairs - find the topics most interest you.

10-befit the topic in your text.

Hopefully you guessed the right one.

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