Yesterday I taught two classes pretty much back to back. The first was to senior English majors embarking on their thesis projects, and the second was for first year students taking an English 100 course. At the beginning of the first class we talked about what the seniors were most worried about as they started their theses, and nearly all of them worried about defining the scope of their project so that it would be long enough, short enough, or completable in the given time. The second class was all about picking a topic, but the atmosphere in the room was quite a bit more apprehensive than it had been when I went to teach them about finding sources.
And it struck me that maybe finding a researchable topic that’s of appropriate scope for your aims is one thing that’s only learnable to a point. Maybe it’s just always hard. Maybe there’s something about it that, if it were easy, would actually make things worse. Maybe that struggle is actually one of the central pieces of scholarship — the thing that makes it work in the first place.