Students All over the world, sooner or later, have to write an academic essay, term paper, or research project. There is no escaping it. The first hurdle to scale is of course to pick the right topic.
Picking the right topic for your work is a very important skill. It could mean the difference between a waste of valuable time or a well-written research that gets you top marks.
If you are a given a specific topic, then that particular hurdle has been scaled. But most of the time, the supervisor expects you to generate a few topic ideas and run them by him/her to be vetted.
In which case, you have come to the right place. The steps below would show you how to chose a topic for your research.
1. Throw ideas around
This is the initial phase when you think of the various ideas you can possibly write on. You can even seek to help of friends to bounce ideas off each other.
In mulling over ideas, focus on the ones you have strong opinions on. This makes sense as you don’t want the writing to be a drudge for you. Even if the job is tough, at least you have to enjoy yourself while at it.
As you are brainstorming ideas, it would be smart to write down some keywords or concepts. These could be expanded and tweaked to form the framework of your topic.
2. Research some of the ideas
After brainstorming, you should have about three possible ideas you would love to write on.
The next step is to do some reading about the keywords or tentative topics you are considering. This is just to give you a sense of how these topics or keywords relate to what you want to write on.
This initial research can also help you narrow down your ideas or even give you alternatives ideas on the final topic. Various kinds of encyclopedias would be your best bet as they contain general information on specific topics.
You can also use search engines like Google and Bing for this exploratory research.
3. Concentrate on the topic
The key here is to strike a balance between too broad and too narrow.
If the topic is too narrow, you would have a hard time getting materials or resources related to the topic. On the other hand, if the topic is too broad, your problem becomes the availability of too much information.
For instance, a topic like, ‘The Historical Evolution and Practice of Popular Democracy‘ is too broad. You are taking on different broad issues all at once.
For instance, in this case, you would have to write about
- The history of democracy around the world
- How democracy is practiced in different regions of the world
- How democracy evolved in different regions
- Future of democracy in different regions.
You have to narrow the topic to something like ‘The Historical Evolution and Practice of Popular Democracy in India’
Conversely, a topic like, ‘The Historical Evolution and practice of Popular Democracy in (the name of a remote village)‘ would be too narrow. You would find it hard to get materials for a topic like that.
Some factors to consider when striking a balance between too broad and too narrow include
- Location or geography
- Popularity of the topic
4. Be open to new ideas
Your research topic or research ideas should not be cast in stone. The fact is, as you do your research, you might have a reason to change the topic for several reasons. This could happen because your topic is too narrow or too broad. Or you suddenly hit on a more interesting idea.
Most often though, you won’t have to change the entire topic and veer on a different path. What typically happens is simply a tweaking of the topic to focus on more interesting aspects of the topic.
5. Decide on a research question
Defining your topic as a research question is important to help keep you on the right track. Once the question is formulated, your target is narrowed down to seeking and providing answers to the research question.
For instance, if your topic idea is ‘The Historical Evolution and Practice of Popular Democracy in India’
Your research question could be: ‘What are the key events and personalities in the history of Indian democracy?’
Research question two could be: ‘How has democracy changed in India over the years?’
6. Do more background check
You have now reached a point where the topic has finally taken shape. But before you submit your topic ideas for vetting, you must do one final background check on your topic.
This research is mainly to see if there are enough materials to answer your research questions. Again, this is just exploratory to make sure you won’t get stumped while doing the research proper.
When you are satisfied there is enough material out there to answer your research questions, you can then submit the topic(s) for approval.