The ability to develop a good research topic is an important skill. An instructor may assign you a specific topic, but most often instructors require you to select your own topic of interest. When choosing your topic, you should identify the broad area of study and make a list of all possible topics. You may also have an idea of what you want to do, but investigate all possibilities before your decide. You should give yourself plenty of options and then select the one that works best for you.
When deciding on a topic, there are a few things that you will need to do:
Be aware that selecting a good topic may not be easy. It must be narrow and focused enough to be interesting, yet broad enough to find adequate information. Before selecting your topic, make sure you know what your final project should look like. Each class or instructor will likely require a different format or style of research project.
Use the steps below to guide you through the process of selecting a research topic.
Step 1: Brainstorm for ideas
Choose a topic that interests you. Use the following questions to help generate topic ideas.
Write down any key words or concepts that may be of interest to you. Could these terms help be used to form a more focused research topic?
Be aware of overused ideas when deciding a topic. You may wish to avoid topics such as, abortion, gun control, teen pregnancy, or suicide unless you feel you have a unique approach to the topic. Ask the instructor for ideas if you feel you are stuck or need additional guidance.
Step 2: Read General Background Information
Step 3: Focus on Your Topic
Keep it manageable
A topic will be very difficult to research if it is too broad or narrow. One way to narrow a broad topic such as “the environment” is to limit your topic. Some common ways to limit a topic are:
Example: What environmental issues are most important in the Southwestern United States
Example: How does the environment fit into the Navajo world view?
Example: What are the most prominent environmental issues of the last 10 years?
Example: How does environmental awareness effect business practices today?
Example: What are the effects of air pollution on senior citizens?
It is also expedient for you to remember that a topic may be too difficult to research if it is too:
Example: What sources of pollution affect the Genesee County water supply?
Example: How can the environment contribute to the culture, politics and society of the Western states?
If you have any difficulties or questions with focusing your topic, discuss the topic with your instructor, or with a librarian
Step 4: Make a List of Useful Keywords
Keep track of the words that are used to describe your topic.
Step 5: Be Flexible
It is common to modify your topic during the research process. You can never be sure of what you may find. You may find too much and need to narrow your focus, or too little and need to broaden your focus. This is a normal part of the research process. When researching, you may not wish to change your topic, but you may decide that some other aspect of the topic is more interesting or manageable.
Keep in mind the assigned length of the research paper, project, bibliography or other research assignment. Be aware of the depth of coverage needed and the due date. These important factors may help you decide how much and when you will modify your topic. You instructor will probably provide specific requirements, if not the table below may provide a rough guide:
Step 6: Define Your Topic as a Focused Research Question
You will often begin with a word, develop a more focused interest in an aspect of something relating to that word, and then begin to have questions about the topic.
Step 7: Research and Read More About Your Topic
Use the key words you have gathered to research in the catalog, article databases, and Internet search engines. Find more information to help you answer your research question.
You will need to do some research and reading before you select your final topic. Can you find enough information to answer your research question? Remember, selecting a topic is an important and complex part of the research process.