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Research Foundations: Decide on a Topic

Get Inspired

Your initial step in deciding on a topic is to find inspiration. Your professor may have provided a specific topic or list of topics to research. If so, choose from those topics. If not, check out some of these tips:

  • Review Course Material - Browse your textbook or class notes for topics that interest you. If you are researching literature, were there any stories or authors that appealed to you? This is a good lead.
  • Browse the Web and Media - Read news sites, watch educational or news television programs, or open a newspaper or magazine. Does anything pique your interest? Try a Web search like "anthropology topics" or "controversial issues" to reveal entire lists of topics in your subject area.
  • Talk with Your Professor - Your professor is an expert in their field and will be able to provide you with great ideas to research. And you will also gain an idea of what topics your professor approves of.

Choose a Topic

If you found yourself inspired by many topics, then it is time to choose just one. Here are three ways to help you decide on a topic that is right for you:

  • Class Assignment - Choose a topic that meets your assignment guidelines and matches the focus of the class. This may seem obvious, but it is a very important consideration to remember.
  • Interest - Since you will be spending a good deal of time interacting with the topic, you should choose something that sparks your curiosity. It will make your research painless and will inspire you to produce a better project!
  • Focus - Finding a great topic is not just about the topic itself, but also the angle you will address when researching it. Is there a specific focus, or interest area, you want to explore on the topic? For example, if your topic is “immigration,” you could focus on immigration reform, immigration rights, or United States citizenship requirements.

Create a Research Question

After choosing a topic, it is time to develop a research question. This is an important step because it will help direct your research by focusing on a specific position or point-of-view. As the name implies, a research question will end with a question mark. For example, for the topic of “college sports,” an appropriate research question could be “Should college athletes be compensated for their performance?”

During the course of your research, you will try to answer your research question with information you find from a variety of credible sources. To create a great research question, review these guidelines:

  • Open-Ended - Your research questions should be open to ensure that you explore credible, academic resources in order to provide a sufficient answer.
  • Simple - When you develop your thesis statement, you can add some complexity to your research. At this stage, however, try to make your research question simple. You will be learning more about your topic over time and can adapt your research question as you go. A topic like "Do car emissions cause global warming, and does that cause melting of glaciers Antarctica?" is too complicated and seeks to answer too many questions. A more simplified version could be "Do car emissions lead to global warming?" or "Does global warming cause ice melt in Antarctica?"