Choosing Carefully Without Wasting Your Time
It is understandable that you want to choose the best topic you can. Of course, you want to be able to find what you are looking for with a reasonable amount of digging, you want to learn something from the experience, and you want a topic that is within your capabilities. You also want to receive a good grade on the paper.
It can seem that the due date for your paper is a long way off, but don't put off choosing a topic. Let's suppose you are in a class that is assigned research papers on a Thursday, with the opportunity to choose your own topic. Another student does some brainstorming that same day, visits the library over the weekend, and by Monday morning begins work on his project. You, on the other hand, are so overwhelmed with the large project that you let it sit over the weekend. You do think about the paper, mulling it over and planning how to complete it. You also think about your choice of topic, but you don't take any concrete action toward choosing one. When Monday comes, you hear the other students discussing their papers and comparing notes. Once you realize that other students have already begun their work, you panic. Already you are falling behind. You quickly settle on a topic from your list. While the other students are able to complete their work easily in the remaining weeks, you anxiously center your life around the project in order to finish it on time, and you have a nagging feeling the entire time that your topic isn't the one you should have picked.
There is a moral to this story: Begin to choose your topic right away. Start the same day you are given the assignment if at all possible. There is no advantage to letting it sit for a few days; the topic is not likely to just pop into your head.
Choose Within the First Few Days
As you saw in the previous example, the length of time it takes you to choose your topic greatly affects when you can begin writing your paper. Therefore, it only makes sense to choose quickly.
The best way to ensure that you don't spend your entire project time trying to choose a topic is to set a deadline for yourself. If you follow the process set out here, you should be able to choose a topic shortly after the paper is assigned.
One caution: Though it's important to decide on a topic within a few days, it would be foolhardy to rush through this process immediately. This paper is going to be a major part of your life for the next several weeks, and you need a topic you won't be tired of in the first week. Choose quickly, but choose wisely.
If you are given a very short time frame in which to complete the entire paper, you need to choose your topic quickly—ideally in the first day, or perhaps in two days. Generally, the total time frame given for a research paper allows for a few days to choose a topic.