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Doing Research

Picking your topic

What is a topic

A topic is a subject or issue that a researcher is interested in and desires to research or discuss. The starting point of every successful research project is to have a well-defined research topic. However this can be a challenging task. There are four steps that could help you define your research topic.

Step 1. Get inspired: Some of you may be interested in researching animal rights, cell phones in schools, eating disorders, or gender identity. But some of you may struggle to find a topic as you may be afraid that you will not find anything about it. No matter the scenario, you can be inspired from a wide range of experiences and contexts to find a topic to explore.

Step 2. Pick a topic: Once you have some inspiration or personal interest you have to move to the next step which is to pick a topic. A good research topic has three basic characteristics, it is interesting, manageable, and valuable for you and for your audience.

Step 3. Bring up a research question: Once you choose a general topic you need to decide what you would like to research on this. Now you have to think of potential questions that may arise under this topic. It is sometimes safer to prepare more than one research questions that relate to your topic.

Check the table to see how you progress from one step to the other.

Inspiration Topic  Research Question
Political event Brexit Does Brexit affect the income of European Union countries?
Incident  School shooting in Brazil Should gun-control legislation be stronger?
An episode from Black Mirror, a web television series Social media Do the positive aspects of social media sites outweigh the negatives?
Life experiences, e.g. registering for an online course Learning & online instruction  Is student learning achieved on the same levels with online instruction compared to face - to – face instruction? 
Previous studies Library anxiety  Does library instruction comfort library anxiety?


Step 4. Testing your topic: Once you decided what topic you would like to research, you have to make sure that it is a researchable topic. At this stage, you will test your topic with some preliminary research, to understand whether there is enough evidence to support it. If you find enough this means that you won half the battle. You finally have a researchable topic. However, if you cannot find enough information this means that you have to refine your research question or pick another topic so you will enter the research cycle again!

When a topic is unresearchable
When it is too broad Does online gaming affect our society?
When it is too narrow Does online gaming affect the behavior of adolescents with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder?
When it has no academic interest Do animals have supernatural powers?
When it is too recent and has only local appeal What are the environmental consequences of 2018 wild fires in Greece?
Picking your topic is research
  • Everyday life events and situations: You can come up with topic ideas from everyday life events and situations. For example you may watch a web television series like Black Mirror which explores the intersection of technology and human behavior in a high-tech world. 
  • News in traditional or social media: News in traditional or social media can also be helpful. For instance a news article about Brexit or a post about the school shooting in Brazil can generate topic ideas.
  • Personal experiences: Another source of inspiration can be issues that you encounter in your personal life as a college student for example you have registered for an online course which is something new to you.
  • Previous studies and theories: However, if you are a more experienced researcher you may be inspired by previous studies and theories as research often produces more questions than answers. For instance there may be several studies demonstrating that library anxiety is an unpleasant feeling among students but there is not enough research about if library instruction comforts this unpleasant situation.
Topic starters for academic research & writing courses

One of the libraries subscription databases offering a 350+ list of trending pro/con leading topics. Great starter for novice researchers. You can pick a topic from a wide range of social, scientific, health, historic, economic, political, and global issues. Topics are associated with engaging questions and viewpoint articles that could help you build solid understanding regarding complex issues.

This library subscription database covers today's hottest social issues, from capital punishment to immigration and marijuana. This cross-curricular research database supports science, social studies, current events, and language arts classes. It offers a list of topics including pro/con viewpoints, reference articles, interactive maps, infographics, and more. It provides quick and easy access to content on frequently studied and discussed issues.

Topic starters for research projects in particular academic fields
  • Textbook: Browse your textbook. It is an excellent starting point for finding important people, theories, definitions and questions relevant to your writing projects.
  • Subject guides: Browse the list of subjects to find the guide which is associated to your academic field. These guides include subject specific resources like subject encyclopedias, articles, books and datasets. Browse the resources which are tight to the guide.
  • Google Scholar: Browse Google Scholar which indexes scholarly literature like articles, theses, books and abstracts from academic publishers, professional societies, online repositories, universities, and other websites, across a wide variety of publishing formats and disciplines.