One of the best ways to conduct research for a writing assignment is to schedule a Personal Research Consultation with a librarian at Wittenberg's Thomas Library. The library also has an excellent web page with help guides, and there is another on evaluating internet sources: how can you tell if a site is reliable and is relevant to your writing project?
The Bedford Research Room: A tutoral on how to work with information from sources - quoting, summarizing, and paraphrasing.
Three Questions When Choosing a Topic for a Research Paper:
Does the topic interest me?
You're going to be spending a lot of time with it, and bored writers often bore their readers. Even if you are assigned a topic, you can nearly always find some aspect that interests you.
Is there enough information available?
You may want to do a preliminary search of Thomas Library's holdings to make sure there is enough information for you to write a good paper of the length assigned. One or two sources may be enough for a very short paper, if they are good sources, but generally you will need a lot more. Also, if you are planning on using OhioLink of Inter Library Loan, make sure you request your sources well in advance as it can take three to five days for some sources to make it to Wittenberg.
Is my topic too broad?
"Western influence on Japan" is too broad a topic for any undergraduate paper. To narrow, or collapse, the topic, you need to identify different aspects of it. One way is by questioning. Write down at least 15 questions (but as many as possible) about the topic. Some good questions to start off with might define key terms. What is "Western" and what is "Japanese?" What is "influence," and how can you tell if any of these exist?
Another good kind of question divides the topic into specific aspects. What different kinds of influence are there? What different areas of Japanese life could Western influence affect? You might also want to ask questions that relate your topic to a larger setting. When you have your list of questions, pick one that interests you, or one group of related questions. This process focuses your topic and limits it to a manageable size.
One Last Piece of Advice:
START EARLY! It's never too soon to start your research paper. Ideally you can brainstorm some ideas and start looking for a topic as soon as a paper is assigned. The more time you spend researching and writing, the better the results.