Guidelines for how to choose research papers

Guidelines for how to choose research paper topics


This article explains the process of choosing a research topic. The article helps delineate the stages in the development of theoretical research in any field. The article provides methods for preparing to develop a research topic, steps for approaching a research problem, and methods for the theoretical development of the problem. The article ends by highlighting the potential pitfalls that can arise when choosing a research topic, as well as positive points concerning students and early-career researchers who begin research in a field. This article is written with the intention of helping this group of people starts the process of developing a research topic by helping them gain a thorough understanding of the whole process.

Starting academic research is one of the most important activities for new postgraduate and doctoral students. Although debated by many, the publish-or-perish mantra still holds credence in the academic arena. Good teaching can be rewarded locally, and that is a laudable pursuit in itself, but most tenure decisions and the principles of recognition and prestige depend on engineering conference paper publication. Publishing also has an existential purpose by allowing individuals to leave their mark on the intellectual history of their respective disciplines. Given the necessity and benefits of academic writing, it is imperative that students begin this process as early as possible in their careers. This article offers critical insight into how students and researchers can begin the publication process early in their academic careers.

It offers a useful synopsis of the various stages of publishing research, from initiating a project with an idea to submitting and revising the manuscript. Another area the article touches on is the process of identifying and selecting research topics. In addition to this, readers must take into account the overall ideas of contribution to the field and the experiential context of the student. Many doctoral students do not have a research orientation, and even those who do might still lack the experience required to develop a particular topic within a much broader research area.

The purpose of this article is to traverse the process of selecting a research topic, and it offers a framework for students to be able to easily follow and implement. It also provides points on the preparation and selection of research as a student or early-career researcher. The remainder of this manuscript is formatted in sections that help provide a chronological method for the novice scholar to pursue relevant research. 

  • The first section provides introductory techniques and thoughts on getting into the right mindset to identify a research topic. 
  • The second section goes over how one should consider approaching a research problem. Methods of theory development are described in the third section. 
  • The fourth section outlines research-related pitfalls, while the fifth outlines some potential opportunities and benefits. 
  • Finally, the conclusions are discussed.

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  • Inculcating A Brand New Perspective Or Outlook On Things
    • When setting out to identify a research project, many students and early-career researchers start by jumping straight to a solution to a challenge before they have thought about the problem adequately or sometimes even before they have a well-defined problem. 
    • This is analogous to how many novice decision-makers approach unfamiliar issues; that is, they focus almost immediately on the solution while ignoring the fundamental steps involved in defining the problem and considering alternatives. 
    • The problem this presents is that many students and early-career researchers are unprepared to engage in the appropriate activities necessary to adequately select a research topic based on a defined problem.
    • Before choosing a viable research topic, the individual must prepare mentally to engage in the process of exploration and development, which can be a challenge for many new students and early-career researchers.
    • A premise that any researcher must question is the acceptance of existing scientific dogmas or paradigms. 
    • Many students and early-career researchers are indoctrinated in the fundamental theories of their discipline because, in essence, right from their kindergarten years, they are socialized to accept what they read without meaningful critical evaluation of what is presented. 
    • This training leaves them inattentive to the things they should be aware of and imprisons them in the routine way of seeing the world around themselves. 
    • To prepare to identify a research topic, students and early-career researchers must be prepared to challenge previous beliefs. 
    • Although it might be difficult, there are some techniques students and early-career researchers can use to foster creative thinking –
  • Brainstorming

As you read and reflect on the research, write down ideas that don’t take on their full meaning. (This shows the usefulness of having a research notebook in which ideas can be recorded.)

  • Thinking Outside-The-Box (Outside Your Own Comfort Zone Or Discipline)

Try to think outside of your discipline and training in your sphere of interest or expertise. This is often accomplished by challenging assumptions, i.e., asking what is true if we have no preconceived ideas or assumptions. Attending an international conference in 2022 will help you learn more about getting out of your comfort zone.

  • Partnering

When you think of a research topic, pass it by someone who is completely out of your region. A good idea is to pitch it as a good story. If you can explain the concept to a “layman” or someone outside your field and it makes sense, it’s more likely that your idea is logically sound.

  • Asking “Why”

You shouldn’t cease questioning the findings of your own research and those of other reasearchers as well. Partnering with a professional outside of your own niche may result in he or she may counter some criticalities in your subject that you’ve taken for granted so far.

  • Talking About It

If you talk about an idea, you will find that you conceptualize the how, why, where, who, etc. We often tend to think we understand a problem, but talking about it forces us to pull together loosely related ideas into a cohesive whole.

  • Drawing Is Fun & Effective

Although not all research can be visualized, concepts can often be drawn. Graphical representations help you group complex ideas into manageable nuggets that can be understood more easily. For most research models, if you’re able to draw it, you’ll be able to understand it. Moreover, the very model that is drawn may raise new problems that need to be addressed.

  • Thinking Of Things That Interest You

These ideas could be in your field of research or completely unrelated. Good research begins with what interests the author, serving as a buffer against discouragement and disinterest in research later in the process. If you have difficulties with this, you could always avail the assistance of a top academic research consultancy such as IFERP.

  • Approaching The Problem
    • Once the researcher is in an appropriate frame of mind, he or she can begin to address the research problem. 
    • One of the problems that many students and early-career researchers have is the concept of ​​actually working on the research problem itself. 
    • Many novice researchers tend to jump straight into engaging themselves in the discovery of solutions to the problem instead of just investing the time necessary to dig into the underlying issues related to the problem. 
    • The risk this strategy creates is that the researcher will not fully understand the problem and, in turn, might not recognize the fundamental questions that frame the context of the problem. 
    • There are three methods of approaching a problem that allow the researcher to better understand the problem before attempting to develop and implement solutions –
      • Isolating & Structuring,
      • Magnifying The Research Problem, and
      • Theory Research.
  • Isolating & Structuring
    • Most of the problems that students and early-career researchers will analyze are not simple; that is, they are part of complex systems that have components, as well as interactions with a larger environmental system. 
    • Therefore, most research problems will tend to be multidimensional in nature. 
    • Of course, a daunting hurdle that most investigators face when trying to understand complex issues is tackling the entire problem at once.
    • Although it is very beneficial to have a general high-level understanding of the problem, sooner or later, the researcher must investigate the context of his/her problem. 
    • First, the researcher must isolate the problem from other external factors to better understand the problem itself. 
    • Next, the researcher must specify and define the concepts of the problem. 
    • This allows the researcher to comprehend each component of the problem in isolation before beginning to understand these individual components in more detail or integrating these components. 
    • Then the researcher can clarify reference levels, such as -part-whole or micro-macro concepts, before specifying the relationships between integral concepts and organizing them as well as categorizing these concepts into an overall typology. 
    • By isolating the individual parts of the problem, the researcher will be able to develop a deeper understanding before moving on to other tasks, such as integrating the problem.
  • Magnifying The Research Problem
    • After isolating a problem and giving it a structure, the next step is for the researcher to enlarge the problem. 
    • By magnifying or elaborating on the theoretical basis behind the problem, the researcher can gain a better understanding of the problem itself. 
    • While isolation breaks the problem down into its constituent parts, magnification focuses on one or more particular isolated sections and amplifies each part of that section to allow for a deeper understanding of that particular isolated part of the problem. 
    • The sections of the problem must be carefully enlarged to be fully understood by the researcher. 
    • This may involve reading the problem part, performing experiments to reproduce the problem part, or simply thinking more deeply about the problem part (e.g., thought experiments). 
    • The key is to accentuate the parts of the individual problem so that they are more understandable and easier to grasp.
  • Theory Research
    • The last step in approaching a problem is to apply one or more relevant theories by carrying out a comprehensive review of the literature. 
    • Doctoral Students and early-career researchers are usually used to conducting literature reviews, as it is often one of the first “research” tasks given to them as doctoral students. 
    • Nonetheless, this familiarity can be a liability if thorough and proper research is not undertaken. 
    • Various guidelines should be considered when conducting a literature review. 
    • First, research must be targeted. 
    • Although one often finds ancillary articles of interest when doing a general search, the searcher should stay on target lest they be overwhelmed by the amount of literature that is likely to be found.
    • Then, it is necessary to identify the founding articles in the field of investigation. 
    • These articles often represent “groundbreaking” research or a concept paper that defines a stream of research. 
    • Such articles can often be used as a starting point for researching theoretical concepts associated with the research topic. 
    • Starting with a seminal article, both in-article and in-article references should be considered. 
    • The main goal of a thorough literature review is to find enough relevant theories and research to formulate a well-structured argument from which your particular research questions can derive.
  • Setting About Developing Your Theory
    • There are many different ways to develop a theory that addresses research problems, but many students and early-career researchers find this process daunting. 
    • While, on occasion, a research idea may “magically” appear out of epiphany, most research ideas arise from a significant investment of time and mental energy. 
    • The key is to always be alert to opportunities and possibilities for new research that will arise unexpectedly and at unforeseen times.
    • A choice to be made when developing a theoretical basis for a problem is the type of theory development methodology to use. 
    • A theoretical base can be detailed and relate to an already established field or it can be completely new and address new or emerging fields. 
    • In a metaphorical sense, one can think of a clock face as a way of looking at the development of a theoretical context for research, interpreting that research is a compromise between precision, simplicity, and generality. 
    • Any theory will be, at most, strong in two of the three clock domains while giving up the third. 
    • Although this example offers a useful guide to developing research, a more detailed guide is generally required for most students and early-career researchers.
    • A second important element for researchers, and particularly relevant for beginning researchers, is the concept of contribution to knowledge.
    • Contribution to knowledge involves increasing our understanding of a phenomenon in order to contribute to the body of knowledge in the field.
    • Several methods are available by which original research contributions can be made, including establishing causal relationships, evaluating the effectiveness of a particular approach to a problem, longitudinal examination of the problem, exploring an approach to solving a problem through descriptive study, establishing a method for creating a solution to a problem, developing constructs about the causes or characteristics of a problem, or developing a predictive model.
    • The importance lies in demonstrating that there is a contribution to knowledge that creates a step forward in the particular branch of the researcher.
  • There are three types of theoretical development opportunities that can be used to guide researchers. These three strategies can be adopt for the development of an underlying theoretical foundation for finding a solution to a problem. These include –
    • New Theory On A Phenomenon That Has Already Been Looked Into & Interpreted;
    • Theory On An Already Recognized Phenomenon That Not Much Is Known About In Detail;
    • Anomalies To An Existing Paradigm.
  • New Theory On A Phenomenon That Has Already Been Looked Into & Interpreted
    • Any discipline that includes doctoral studies will have a literature base relevant to the field. 
    • This theory forms the foundation for many of the seminar courses required for students in doctoral programs. 
    • These fundamental theories and concepts are usually transmitted to students from the textbooks of undergraduate programs and this knowledge is then developed in doctoral training during seminars and other basic courses. 
    • Doctoral students usually find a field in their field and strive to create in-depth literature reviews. 
    • Given this, doctoral students become quite well versed in a specific area of ​​the discipline and the basic theories and research that come with that area.
    • Much research and science start from a currently understood and generally accepted field, and from there, the research effort involves activities that focus on delving deeper into the subject.
  • There an array of perks when adopting this brand of research. 
    • First, it allows the researcher to use the knowledge he has already acquired and to build from this base. 
    • Second, this type of research allows the researcher to examine smaller or more subtle topics in the field that have not yet been studied. Also, it allows the researcher to develop more precise techniques to measure a phenomenon. It has been argued that larger mid-range substantive theories need to be developed that will focus on producing practical outcomes that can be utilized in the field. Without refinement and development of current research, improvements in current practice will occur less frequently.
    • Although new theories on existing research are needed, this type of basic theoretical development for research also has drawbacks. First, if a researcher dives into an existing search stream very deeply, the search may no longer be available to the general public. Moreover, this type of theoretical development risks leading to research that is only the description of small-scale or inconsequential phenomena. Moreover, this type of research, if not controlled, can result in counting things for the purpose of counting or generating data primarily for the purpose of applying rigorous statistical techniques. While new theories on the phenomena explained are necessary, these theories run the risk of regressing into meaningless research that merely affirms the assumptions of their audience.
  • Theory On An Already Recognized Phenomenon That Not Much Is Known About In Detail
    • Some areas of a discipline may be known but misunderstood. 
    • Many researchers want to solve the puzzles that no one else has been able to solve in the field, but often a researcher has to settle for describing the problem correctly and leave further analysis for others.
    • This type of research will classify phenomena without exposing details that lie below the surface and can be used to provide a roadmap for future research in the area. 
    • Doctoral students find themselves in a unique situation here as they begin to synthesize research in a particular area for future work in their thesis. 
    • Doctoral students, during these first forays into the field, build a review of the literature, and, in the end, this review can provide a taxonomy of a field that is original in its synthesis of ideas. 
    • This summary may not provide the details, but a much-needed infusion of new or innovative ideas in the field.
    • Some authors argue that a greater number of conceptual, theoretical bases are necessary before tackling the major problems of a discipline. 
    • These “intermediate” theories are needed to help guide empirical inquiry and can be used to formally compare current research to produce more general taxonomies. 
    • In fact, the argument has been made that some areas are not yet ready for more “global” theories as the necessary preparatory work remains to be done. 
    • This implies that more research should be conducted to explore a phenomenon known at a high level, although the details may not be known.
    • Given the above arguments for higher-level theoretical foundations for research problems, there are still counter-arguments, especially with regard to editing. 
    • Some journal editors view this type of research as trivial or unoriginal while other editors disagree with this assessment and are inclined to evaluate the article based on its fundamental contribution to the field.
    • Whether or not this type of research is publishable is a separate issue from whether it can offer a good start to an investigation into an area and can provide a framework from which to springboard into further research.
  • Anomalies To An Existing Paradigm
    • Anomalies in existing research can both hold promise and simultaneously instill reluctance to researchers. 
    • For example, anomalies can open new doors while challenging previous research. 
    • Many researchers are cautious about discrepancies between current and past research, as they feel they run the risk of being criticized for questioning orthodoxy. 
    • It has been argued that the best kind of research occurs when it contradicts existing research by providing a viable alternative to what is accepted as the status quo. 
    • Also, new theoretical development is more pronounced and, therefore, more likely to be noticed when it falsifies established “truth”. 
  • One researcher based his entire article on the delineation of “interesting” research on the assumption that such research challenges currently held truths. 
  • The researcher argued that an interesting proposition is always the negation of an accepted proposition and that a new proposition will only be noticed when it goes against an established truth. 
  • These types of anomalies create tensions, inconsistencies, and contradictions between accepted research and new research that provide the opportunity to develop better theoretical foundations for your research and draw attention to it. 
  • Given this, research that examines or highlights anomalies in existing research represents a rich area of ​​study. 
  • Obviously, the process of executing and progressing research that exhibits these qualities isn’t simple. 
  • A description of “disciplined imagination” can aid in the theoretical development of problem-solving which involves defining the three components of a problem – 
    • problem statements, 
    • thought trials, and 
    • criteria for selection. 
  • One can study a number of methods for finding interesting research that has been used in the past – many of these even challenge current beliefs in the field. 
  • Although finding anomalies can be a daunting task, there are ways to take advantage of these opportunities to develop exciting new research through practice.
  • Pitfalls That Researchers Need To Be Wary Of
    • Research offers the potential for many rewards for both the researcher and society as a whole, but there are also potential risks in the process described here for selecting an appropriate research topic. 
    • Listed below are some of the pitfalls that can be associated with this process. Attending a Scopus indexed conference in 2022 will also help you get well versed with these pitfalls.
  • Above, the first shift in mindset highlighted was to question past scientific knowledge. It is a very beneficial endeavor and one that both students and early-career researchers should learn from, but as with everything, a fine balance must be maintained. If you examine every anomaly, you will never accomplish any work. 
  • One of the challenges of becoming a good researcher is separating research questions that are important enough to be investigated from those that should not be questioned. In other words, one should be able to identify problems that are promising and have practical significance. The criteria for making this decision will be unique for different researchers in different fields of research, but they should be discovered and evaluated by each individual through both reason and experience. Of course, experience only comes when you are willing to risk making mistakes.
  • Another potential pitfall is choosing to work with or refer to “substantiated” research rather than unsubstantiated research. Many doctoral students – and seasoned researchers, for that matter – are attracted to “reputable” theories often because of the amount of corroboration, the strength of citations in the literature, the popularity of the theory, etc. Although this is a very pragmatic approach, this research should not be the end of the research. There is good research that is new or unexamined and has research potential because of its unpopularity or novelty. Recall that even Einstein’s theory of relativity (1916) was rarely cited in 1916.
  • Positives That Researchers Need To Be Wary Of
    • The previous section highlighted a few of the pitfalls that are inherent to theory development.
    • There are also positives for students and early-career researchers as they begin to develop their own theoretical research programs. 
    • Although not everyone realizes these potential benefits, they do offer some ideas for approaching your research in a way that could increase the possibility of producing new and interesting research.
  • Selecting a valid and authentic research topic will also help you ace the entire research paper submission process when you come to the point of submitting your finished manuscript to the journal of your choice. 
  • Those who are new to a field feel less tied to a specific worldview or research paradigm. 
  • This offers many opportunities for students and early-career researchers.
    • First, since newcomers to a field are less tied to previous research in a field, they have the potential to make the greatest discoveries because they are more open-minded. While those who are grounded in the theories that predominate in a field rarely question the previous research on which they base their own research, those who are new to research will have fewer of these strong opinions. That’s why it’s so crucial to shift your mindset to question past research. This will allow the researcher to think outside the box and potentially make discoveries that are not accessible to more experienced researchers due to their faith in the basic literature of the research area.
  • Another positive is the ability to approach a problem from a different domain/paradigm. Good science often arises, almost by accident, when someone outside the field challenges the status quo and examines a problem from an open perspective. As students and early-career researchers, being less attached to a specific field, they are more open to perceiving a problem from the point of view of another field. Applying knowledge or theories from other disciplines can open the door to solving problems in the original discipline in new and exciting ways.

Often, the act of selecting a research topic is overlooked in the overall process of publishing academic research. This article addresses this problem by providing a much-needed delineation of the steps that are involved in selecting a research topic. A final comment that needs further explanation relates to the topic of “extraordinary” research. Many authors, including those quoted in this book, have opinions about what extraordinary research entails. The only interesting research is that which attempts to explain something by contradicting the assumptions of the intended audience of the article. In some fields, intermediate theories are more important because global theories are generally not feasible. Theories that attempt to explain anomalies in existing research are more exemplary. Although some of these “ideal” types of theories may be more publishable in some academic journals, this manuscript does not claim that one type of theory is inherently superior to another. Instead, we have focused on providing practical guidance that researchers can leverage to better develop their own theories using the theoretical type they prefer. Download the IFERP mobile app today if you’d like to read up on highly informative blogs and articles such as this one.