How to Choose a Research Topic

How to Choose a Research Topic

It’s the middle of the semester and time to start thinking about that big final research project. But, how can you get started when it feels so daunting to pick a topic. Have no fear! We are here with tips to help you pick the perfect topic for your next project. Choosing the right topic matters, because it sets the tone for your entire project. Read on and make your project a success.

Getting started can be very daunting, but doing a general brainstorm can be a great way to help you get some momentum going. Write down all of the ideas that you have, even if you think that they are crazy. These bad ideas can lead to better ideas as you spend time just pondering the assignment and you will eventually land on something that will work.

Try to choose something that interests you
You will be spending a lot of time on this project and choosing a topic that interests you will make it much easier for you to feel engaged. Even if the class is something that falls outside of your typical area of interest, there is likely a way to tie the two subjects together. For example, if you are a bio major and you find yourself in a history class, research the history of a scientific subject or person that you are passionate about.

Ensure you can understand the existing literature
While you want to pick a topic that is interesting and challenging, picking something very complex that you don’t have any background knowledge about is going to make the entire project very difficult. If you are struggling to understand the existing work about a given topic even after reading several pages, you may want to move on to something else.

Check that there is enough research available
Additionally, you will need to make sure that there is enough previous research on your given topic for you to conduct a thorough literature review. If you can only find two or three mentions of the topic in academic journals you will likely want to choose a topic that has been more widely explored to make things easier for you.

Be specific enough
If your topic is too broad you may find yourself overwhelmed and you will have to keep your work very surface level to cover it’s scope. By narrowing your topic you will be able to do a deeper dive into one area that is particularly important to you. For example, last semester I wanted to write a policy brief on gun control, which would have been much too broad. Instead, my professor encouraged me to focus on gun policy as it relates to mental health and as a result, my final paper was much more successful.

Be flexible
Once you choose a topic that you think will work well, you can begin to dive deeper into the project, however, as you continue working you may find that you need to shift your topic a bit to better fit the guidelines of the project. Don’t panic, be prepared to make adjustments to your topic and the end result will be more successful in the long-run.

Use the 5 W’s
As you begin to dive into your topic, focus on first gathering the who, what, when, and where, and why. Even if all of these categories don’t perfectly fit your topic, in the process of trying to uncover all of this information you will gather a significant basis of information about your topics.

Start to create an outline
As you are doing your initial research, see if you can create a rough outline of your final paper or presentation. If you are able to do this, then the topic probably fits the requirements of the project well, but if you are struggling to see how the parts of your project will come together in a cohesive finished project, then you may want to keep looking for a new topic.

Come up with a great thesis!
Once you have narrowed down your topic, the next step to starting your project is writing a thesis statement. This statement will concisely explain what you will be looking for or arguing over the course of your project. A solid thesis statement will help direct the rest of your paper, so you want to get it right. You may want to go to office hours or meet with a librarian to review your thesis and get feedback before you move on full-steam ahead with your research project.

We hope these tips enable you to pick a great topic for your next project. Do you have your own ideas about how to do this? Share them with us on Twitter, @Conserisapp. Good luck!

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