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How to Select A Topic for A Research Paper?

It is very important to understand that the quality and effectiveness of your research paper depends on the topic that you choose. But, choosing a topic for research paper is not that easy as people think it is. A topic should be focused and narrow yet, wide enough to provide sufficient information. Selecting a good research topic is itself a skill. That’s why we are here to polish your skill and help you in knowing how you can select a topic for a research paper.  

Sometimes it happens that your professors may assign you the topic, but generally they ask you to select your own topic of your interest. You have to actually be careful as you will be working on this topic till the end so it needs to be effective. Make sure that you know how you want your final project to look like, before finalizing your topic. If you take out some time to brainstorm different possibilities, and convert them into a proper research question, you will see that the outcome is a topic which is manageable, valuable and most importantly, is motivating.

Below are some of the steps that you need to follow to come out with an interesting topic.

Step 1- Turn on the wheels of your brain:

  1. Ask Yourself questions

    The first thing that will come in handy will be using your brain power to find out ideas. Start asking yourself questions which will help you generate ideas.

    These questions include:

    • Is there any personal issue or problem bothering you for which you would like to find out answers?
    • Do you have a solid opinion on a current political or social controversy?
    • Has any recent news or story grasped you interest or made you fell anxious or angry?
    • Is there any research paper due for this semester?
    • Do you have any other aspects in mind on which you have interest and you would like to know more about them?

    These were some of the questions which you can cross check. You will definitely get some ideas answering these questions.

  2. Run through websites for ideas

    There are various websites and research sites from where you can get help to find out ideas for your research. Below we have provided some of the websites based on the areas of your interest.

    • Health and medicine-, National Library of Medicine, Health & Wellness Resource Center
    • Government, current events, politics, or social sciences- Washington File
    • Literature, Art, Music, Humanities- National Endowment for the Humanities
    • For other areas, you can try- New York Times/ College Web site , The Scout Report
  3. Write down keywords

    Another way to turn on the wheels of your brain is to write down different keywords or concepts that you find interesting. It is up to you to check out whether these can help you to carve out focused research topics or not. Avoid topics which are overused as people might not take interest in your research. But, if you have a unique concept in your mind, then that can be brought in.

  4. Consult your instructor

    Stay in touch with your instructor because he will be able to guide you better. It is important to stay in check whether your ideas are moving in the right direction or not. Make sure to let them know about your research. Ask them about your topic like, whether in their opinion it’s a good topic to pursue or not. You can ask for their suggestions and about study materials or sources related to that topic. Don’t jump on them asking for the whole solution.

    They are there to guide you or correct you in precise manner. You need to have multiple ideas and topics in mind so that your instructor can guide you and help you shortlist the potential topics. You can also ask a scholar in the same field who holds information on topics of your interest. It can be a family member or a friend.

Step2- Read General information on your topics:

Once we are done with shortlisting 2 to 3 topics, then it’s important to do a little background check on these topics. Its’s crucial for you to know how these topics cope up with your ideas.

  • Read general articles on your shortlisted topics from verified sources like encyclopedias and edu/govt. websites.
  • Reading a broad summary will give you an idea about the topic and will also help you analyze how your ideas relate to nearby or broader issues.  
  • With this reading, you will also get useful keywords which later can help you in your major research phase.
  • Scan different magazines, newspaper articles or journals on your topics. You can use periodical indexes to scan these documents. Consult a librarian if they can guide on sources.
  • Go through web search engines like Google or Bing. You will get best websites to find information on your topics.

Once you are done reading the information, then focus on one topic. It is important to finalize a topic. But before finalizing make sure that your topic follows the points mentioned in the next step.

Step 3- Choose a topic:

Make sure that you choose the correct topic and then focus on that 1 topic. Keep your topic manageable. You can’t expect your topic to come out effective if it’s:

  • Too difficult to research
  • Extremely narrow or broad that you will not be able to able to write on it.

There is still an option of narrowing down a broad topic, but you can’t write on a narrow topic. The best way to narrow down your topic is by limiting it. You can do this limiting: by geographical area, by time frame, by discipline, by culture, and by population group. You also need to understand that your topic automatically becomes difficult to research if it is locally confined, broadly interdisciplinary, or is recent. Once you are done with selecting your topic, go ahead and share it with your instructor.

It is ok to play with different aspects of you topic. You can narrow it down or make it more interesting by changing it into a more manageable form. Try to be flexible and not rigid. Another important factor is to keep in mind the length assigned to you of your research paper. The topic which you have chosen should be able to justify the word length. You have to take care of the required depth of the topic and the due date.

Step-4 Develop a Research Question:

  1. Frame a research question

    This question should not have been used earlier by someone else and the answer to your question should be satisfactory. Once you have a topic, you need to convert it into a refined research question.

    • When you were researching over your topic, find the loop that was missing. You can frame a question over that missing piece.
    • Find out two ideas from our primary research where the relationship between those two ideas was not fully investigated, and then you develop a question over that.
    • Consider how a concept or methodology applies to a current case study in a specific context.
  2. Come up with an answerable question

    After you have developed a research question, it’s time to check whether you will be able to answer that question or nor in a feasible manner.  

    • Check for the timeframe, that whether you will be able to complete your paper development within the given timeline or not?
    • Revise your questions and check for its answer. The question should not be unanswerable.
    • If your topic is new, then it may create problem ahead for you as you will not be able to find enough material to refer to.
    • The question should be manageable. It should not be too narrow or broad to answer.
    • The question should actually be worth answering. Come up with a question which brings some difference in the society or has some direct real life application. Create wide horizons so that you an easily answer your framed question.

Step-5 Get the final touch:

Once you have reached the final section, it’s important to check for the guidelines provided to you on the first place. Is your question addressing the requirements which you were you are trying to fulfill? If not then you have to immediately think of changing it into something that fits better.

At the end when you are done finalizing your question, you have to create a research plan that fits in the bill. You can do that by just listening to various research methods which you will use like interviews, literature reviews, qualitative analysis, etc. Create a timeline in which you will be able to do all this research, and make sure to leave enough time for the write-up. Creating a full research outline helps a lot. People think that an outline is not an important part, but it is. It gives you the rough idea of how you will be writing your research paper and this helps a lot when you start writing.

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