One of the most important aspects of research planning is choosing the right research topic. Without a good research question, the outcome of any research is questionable and will have no impact. It is quite common to hastily prepare a protocol and complete a research study to meet the criteria for academic promotions. Similarly, to meet grant application deadlines, it is not uncommon for research study ideas to be generated within very tight deadlines. This often results in an ill-conceived research question.
The time spent choosing the research topic and generating appropriate questions will pay a rich dividend. An investment of time at this stage of the research process compensates for the time and resources potentially wasted answering an inappropriate question or a question that has already been covered in depth. This blog offers detailed insight into picking the best possible research topic.
- Popular Research Topic Sources
- There are many sources of research ideas.
- Clinical issues identified by knowledgeable clinicians could be the starting point for many research topics.
- Most questions arise from current challenges plaguing the field.
- Some of these questions come from observations that may have already been published as case reports or series.
- You can even ask your colleagues and seniors if they have come across a question that needs to be answered.
- In addition, patients (in the case of medical research) can share some concerns that can be translated into research questions.
- Other sources may include a critical appraisal of Scopus research papers in major areas which has been published recently.
- Editorials from leading journals often highlight areas that require further research.
- Therefore, literature research can identify areas where further research is suggested.
- Sometimes attending conferences and talking with colleagues who have worked in the field can be helpful.
- Most of these studies that aim to refine previous studies or extend them in some way would be considered incremental research, and they constitute the bulk of the studies conducted.
- Institutional priorities can be additional inputs for research, especially when sponsors announce grants.
- Government or private organizations identify the main areas requiring research and offer research funding opportunities.
- This can be easily found on the websites operated by the respective departments.
- Sometimes research questions arise from the basic sciences, which can lead to the translation of results for clinical purposes or their extension to the community.
- Such ideas arise in collaborative research when researchers from the basic clinical sciences come together to formulate a research question. Much of this research could lead to new solutions.
- Narrowing Down A Potential Research Topic From A Broader One
- Senior researchers will be working in a narrow area and generally aware of knowledge gaps in that specific area.
- They will identify research questions that arise from their previous research or from the studies of other principal investigators working in this area.
- However, for a novice researcher, it can be difficult to identify the field in which one wants to do research.
- This is particularly a problem encountered at the start of one’s research career.
- In such situations, the first priority should be to identify one’s own research interest.
- One can reflect on what area one has found interesting based on research encounters or perusing textbooks and journals.
- A broad focus area can be chosen based not only on individual interest but also on – mentor expertise, resource availability, and general global challenges.
- Some examples may be “electromagnetics”, “artificial intelligence”, “distributed ledger technology”, or “cryptography”.
- Reviews in these broad areas (e.g., distributed ledger technology) would indicate which areas of research are active in the field.
- A simple Scopus search with the keyword “distributed ledger technology” may reveal recently published literature in the field.
- Undertaking A Comprehensive Bibliographic Survey
- A thorough review of the literature is always necessary to identify what is already known in the field.
- When you research a topic, you identify related research studies.
- These will help to further refine the research question by defining knowledge gaps.
- Also, an up-to-date review will help avoid unnecessary repetition of the same studies, especially when the answer to the question is already clear.
- It also helps to have a clear theoretical understanding of the topic or to identify a conceptual framework that can be used to work on the topic.
- You should look for systematic reviews or meta-analyses on the education research papers topics of interest, as they summarize a large number of studies.
- Most of these reviews identify potential areas for further research, as they identify gaps in existing studies.
- If there are no systematic reviews available, you should do one in the area of research so that the lack of knowledge becomes apparent.
- Coming Up With A Researchable Question
- Once a general area is identified, the next step is to generate a research question.
- The research question should lead to clinically useful information.
- In addition, the question should lead to clear study objectives and testable hypotheses.
- To ensure that a question can be researched, it must be described in terms of exposures and outcomes in a given scenario.
- In addition, it must be clearly identified whether the emphasis is on innovation or problem-solving.
- These steps would lead to the operationalization of the research question and the formulation of an answer question.
Steps Involved In Picking The Right Research Topics
The capacity to come up with a good research topic is a crucial skill. A research guide may assign you a particular topic, but more often than not, instructors ask you to pick your own research topic of interest. When going about picking a topic, the following are some things you will have to do –
- brainstorming for ideas;
- choosing a subject that will allow you to read and comprehend the literature;
- ensuring that the subject is manageable and that the material is available;
- making a list of keywords;
- being flexible;
- defining your topic as a targeted research question;
- researching and learning more about your topic;
- formulating a thesis statement.
You should be aware that choosing a good topic may not be easy. It’s got to be narrow and focused enough to be interesting but also broad enough to find sufficient data. Prior to selecting your topic, make sure you are aware of what your final project needs to look like. Every class or instructor will likely necessitate a different format or style of research project. Follow the steps highlighted below to guide you through the entire process of picking the best research topic possible.
- Step 1
- Pick a broad topic that is of interest to you.
- Make use of the following questions to assist you in generating specific research topic ideas –
- Have you got a strong opinion on a current raging topic in your discipline?
- Have you read or seen journal reports recently that piqued your interest or made you anxious?
- Do you have a personal question, problem, or interest that you’d like to learn more about?
- Do you have a research paper to submit for a class this semester?
- Is there an aspect of a course you want to know more about?
- Write down any keywords or concepts that might interest you.
- Could these terms help form a more focused search topic?
- Be aware of overused ideas when deciding on a topic.
- You may want to stay away from controversial subjects unless and until you feel you have a unique perspective to offer.
- Ask your research guide for ideas if you feel stuck or need additional guidance.
- Step 2
Carry Out Some Extensive Reading On The Broader Subject
- Read a general encyclopedia article on the two or three main topics you are considering.
- Reading a general summary allows you to acquire an overview of the topic and ascertain how your idea pertains to broader, narrower, and related issues.
- It also offers an excellent source for finding commonly used words to describe the topic.
- These keywords can prove to be quite beneficial for carrying out further research. If you can’t identify an article on your topic, try utilizing broader terms and ask a librarian for help.
- Make use of periodical indexes to browse articles from current magazines, journals, or other online publications where you can access research papers for education on your topic.
- Ask a librarian if they can assist you in browsing articles on your topics of interest.
- Use web search engines. Google and Bing are currently considered two of the best search engines for finding websites on the subject.
- Step 3
Don’t Stray From Your Primary Discipline/Topic Of Interest
- A subject will be very difficult to research if it’s too broad or too narrow.
- One way to narrow down a broad research topic such as “environmental pollution” is to narrow your topic.
- Here are some common ways to limit a topic –
- By Geographical Location
Example: What environmental challenges are most crucial in Southeast Asia?
- By Culture
Example: How do these environmental challenges fit into the worldview of native populations?
- By Time Slot
Example: What are the most important environmental issues of the past decade?
- By Discipline
Example: How do these environmental challenges affect business practices and economic growth in the region today?
- By A Specific Demographic
Example: What are the effects of environmental pollution on seniors?
- Remember that a topic may be too hard to search if it is too –
- Confined Locally
Specific topics can only be covered in these (local) journals, if at all.
Example: What sources of pollution affect Laos’ water supply?
If a topic is fairly recent, books or journal articles may not be available, but smaller blogs or website articles may be. Also, related websites may or may not be available.
- Broadly Interdisciplinary
You might be overwhelmed with superficial information.
Example: How can the environment contribute to Western culture, politics, and society?
You will only discover very popular articles on certain topics, such as sports personalities and high-profile celebrities and musicians.
If you have difficulty or questions narrowing down your topic, discuss it with your instructor or a librarian.
- Step 4
Make A List Of Useful Keywords
- Keep track of the words that are made use of to describe your topic.
- Find the words that best describe your research topic
- Keep an eye out for them when reading journal articles as well as other background and general information
- Discover broader and narrower terms, synonyms, and key concepts for keywords to expand your search capabilities
- Write down these words and make use of them later when searching databases and catalogs.
- Step 5
Remain Adaptable At All Times
- It’s common to change your topic during the research process.
- You can never be sure what you’ll come across that’ll make you change your mind.
- You may discover too much and need to narrow your goal or too little and need to expand your goal.
- This is quite normal as part of any research process.
- While researching, you may not want to change the subject, but you may decide that another perspective on the topic is more interesting or manageable.
- Bear in mind the length assigned to the research paper, project, bibliography, or other research tasks.
- Be aware of the depth of coverage necessary and the due date.
- These crucial factors can assist you with deciding how much and when you will change your topic.
- Your research guide will likely provide specific requirements.
- Step 6
Express Your Research Topic As A Targeted Research Question
- You’ll often start with a single word, develop a more immersed interest in one aspect of something related to that word, and then start asking yourself questions about the topic.
- For instance –
Abert Einstein or the theory of relativity.
- Research Question
How did Albert Einstein influence modern physics?
- Focused Research Question
What research principles used by Albert Einstein remain in use in physics research today?
- Step 7
Research & Learn More About Your Topic
- Make use of the keywords you have gathered to search the catalog, article databases, and Internet search engines.
- Unearth more data to help you find a solution to your research question.
- You will need to do some research and reading before deciding on your final topic.
- Can you get your hands on sufficient data to help provide a solution to your research question?
- Remember that selecting a topic is an important and complex part of the research process.
- Step 8
Formulate A Thesis Statement
- Write your topic in the form of a thesis statement.
- It can be the answer to your research question and/or a way to clearly state the purpose of your research.
- Your thesis statement will normally be one or two sentences that state precisely what needs to be answered and proven or what you will tell your audience about your topic.
- Developing a thesis assumes that there is sufficient evidence to support the thesis statement.
- For example, a thesis statement might be: Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity and subsequent findings ushered in a new era of modern physics.
- His work has influenced dozens of associated disciplines.
- The title of your paper may not be exactly the same as your research question or thesis statement, but the title should clearly convey the direction, purpose, and meaning of your research.
- For example, a title might be – “Albert Einstein’s Theory Of Relativity & Its Influence On Modern Innovations”.
The FINER Strategy For Developing A Strong Research Topic
FINER is an acronym and it is a framework for identifying good research questions. The examination of each question within this framework makes it possible to evaluate their scientific merit.
- The research question is assessed in terms of time required, scope and funds, resources, and expertise available.
- Can the research question be answered in a reasonable time at the proposed workplace?
- Are infrastructure and human resources available for this research?
- Is an appropriate pool of subjects available?
- The financial aspect must also be taken into consideration as it can affect the search.
- This includes hidden costs, which are not always obvious. Is funding available?
- Is the expertise needed to carry out the research available?
- The availability of a mentor or advice may be relevant in some contexts, particularly if the researcher is unfamiliar with the techniques involved in a particular research work.
- A feasibility or pilot study may sometimes be necessary to fully understand the nuances.
- The researcher must have a genuine interest in the subject for the study to be successful.
- Also, in collaborative efforts, the research question should be of interest to all researchers.
- The question you may ask yourself is whether this research would be personally and professionally rewarding.
- The research question must lead to studies that lead to new discoveries.
- Replication of a large study could also be undertaken, as obtaining the same results in different samples improves generalizability.
- However, it is important to critically evaluate previous studies and improve their methodology if limitations have been identified.
- This may also include examining confounding factors or other predictor variables or outcome variables that have not been examined previously.
- Sometimes the identification of clear gaps in the literature leads to the formulation of new questions.
- All research must adhere to the ethical guidelines of your respective discipline as well as those put forth by the journal that you’re applying to.
- The institutional ethics committee must approve the research proposal before the research is conducted.
- If none are available, you can go to an independent ethics committee.
- The risk-benefit ratio for study participants is reviewed by the review committee, particularly when it comes to research on humans or animals.
- This is one of the most crucial parts of choosing the research question.
- All questions must pass the “so what” test, i.e., the search result must ultimately provide useful information that contributes in some way to improving the lives of humans across the globe.
In summary, everyday clinical questions are an important source of research questions. Areas identified by government or funding agencies are top priorities and would lead to important questions. A systematic analysis of the studies carried out in the field makes it possible to identify the gaps. A skeptical attitude toward widely held beliefs can sometimes lead to new ideas that can be taken up as research questions. The research question must be responsible and must have all the necessary elements. In addition, the question should arouse some interest in the researcher. More importantly, the question shouldn’t have been answered before!
Converting Already Existing Ideas Into Top Notch Research Topics
Once researchers have ideas, they must critically evaluate them to come up with potential research topics. This process entails following the below-listed, not necessarily linear, steps –
- Identifying All Possible Subjects Of Interest
- As a researcher, you should choose research paper topics of interest so that you continue to be motivated to successfully overcome problems typically encountered during the study.
- The subject must also be interesting for the thesis director and the other members of the committee and meet the specifications and standards of the university.
- Subjects Pertinent To Your Primary Focus Discipline
- These subjects of interest must be either in your base discipline or in closely related disciplines.
- Interdisciplinary research is now encouraged within the frameworks of the specifications and standards set by most institutes these days.
- Try to identify three potential topics and write a clear statement of the problem and describe the research methodology in each case.
- Also, think about discussion alternatives with the supervisor.
- Identify A Suitable Supervisor To Guide & Motivate You
- In most higher education systems, an application for doctoral studies is accompanied by a proposal.
- At this time, the candidate should identify a supervisor whose primary role is to guide throughout the thesis process.
- Each doctoral student has a supervisor from the same department.
- In the case of interdisciplinary work, the student may have a co-director from the other department.
- Part-time applicants may have co-supervisors, usually from the research institute/company where they are employed.
- In the case of projects carried out by scientists from a research institute, the role of the supervisor is generally replaced by a coordinator/advisor.
- However, every academic or research institute may have its own regulations.
- One can consider a matrix for choosing a subject and a supervisor considering the candidate’s involvement in the subject and the involvement of a supervisor.
- Quadrant I (mentoring) can represent the best option because the involvement of the supervisor and the researcher in the subject is high.
- Quadrant II (Coaching) is the next best option if the researcher is able to work independently with minimal supervisor support.
- Quadrant III (learning) is not a good option. The doctoral student, who reports to the thesis supervisor, cannot attempt to work independently.
- Quadrant IV is not recommended because the researcher has a limited interest in the subject, and the supervisor is not very involved.
- Although most supervisors are honest, there are examples of the exploitation of doctoral students by their supervisors.
- Therefore, try to investigate the background of the faculty member before selecting someone as a supervisor.
- Narrowing Down The General Subject To A More Specific One
- When the scope of a topic is either too broad or too narrow, it will more often than not prove to be difficult to conduct research.
- If the topic is too broad, the researcher will end up writing only in general terms and are unlikely to delve into the issue due to time and resource limitations.
- If the topic is too narrow, it becomes difficult to find the adequate literature that is needed to describe the context of the study and to identify a research gap.
- It is necessary to reduce the general topic to a more specific topic that’s suitable for research.
- Considering the following topic as an example, “The state of environmental pollution in South East Asia”.
- It is too broad or too general for a focused study, and it might not be possible for a researcher to cover all sectors within a given time frame and budget constraints.
- The subject can be limited to a particular country in South East Asia (such as Laos, Cambodia, or Vietnam), which can be even more restricted to a specific region within these countries or a specific type of environmental pollution that is especially prevalent in the country of focus.
- By limiting the scope, we are not minimizing its importance but making it suitable for targeted studies relevant to a specific audience.
- Paying Attention To Scientific, Practical, Social, & Personal Relevance
- It is important that the topic has scientific, social, or practical relevance or is useful to other researchers, practitioners, and policymakers.
- It should be helpful to a researcher’s career goals.
- Research on the topic should ideally make an original contribution to the field.
- As proof of the original and innovative research work carried out by the candidate, most universities require the candidate to publish two or three articles in reputable journals before the submission of the doctoral thesis.
- Research can be conducted to solve practical problems of industries or organizations.
- The industry will be interested and supported if the anticipated research is beneficial to them.
- The research must be relevant to the communities or society in which it takes place.
- Select a research topic that can help you get a lucrative job offer or a promotion.
- If a final year M.Sc. (Environmental Studies) wishes to work in the renewable energy sector, a dissertation topic related to the detailed exploration of fossil fuel alternatives would be appropriate.
- Considering The Feasibility Of The Study
- It is necessary to assess the feasibility of potential subjects to know if the project can be undertaken with the available resources in terms of manpower, schedule, funding, equipment, and other facilities.
- Research studies are time-limited.
- Sometimes researchers have to deal with uncertainties that affect the timing of the project.
- In many projects, the main equipment may fail, and you could lose as much as a year in supplying/repairing the equipment.
- As a result, the project can only be completed in four years instead of three.
- It is necessary to evaluate the financial aspect of a research study.
- The budget framework should indicate the total cost and its distribution between the purchase of equipment, travel, contingencies, etc.
- Researchers can also plan to use primary or secondary data.
- Primary data is collected by researchers themselves for specific study purposes through interviews, surveys, and laboratory or field experiments. The possibility of collecting data should also be explored.
- It may be that you are not be able to obtain permission to collect samples necessary to carry out your research, and this problem may not be foreseen at the time of enrollment.
- You may therefore be forced to drop out of your doctoral program after two years of enrollment.
- If secondary data had already been collected in the past, you could save yourself time and money.
- However, the researcher must check whether the data is accessible, reliable, and complete.
- As a researcher, you should perform your own SWOT analysis (Strength, Weakness, Opportunity, and Threat).
- If the subject does not match your strength in terms of qualification and experience, you may have to stretch beyond your comfort zones to learn new skills.
- Research Ethics
- Research ethics are an essential part of a research project, and they must be considered, especially when the study involves humans and animals.
- As a researcher, you should be aware of the applicable codes of ethics related to the project and should keep the following points in mind –
- Approval is required for all studies that involve humans from a competent authority.
- Approval is required for clinical drug trials from a competent authority.
- Potential risks of harming the environment, the people involved, or damage to property.
- Privacy and Confidentiality.
- The cultural, moral, religious, and legal values of society.
- Transparency and authenticity in the conduct of research.
Every researcher wants to know secrets to easily publish research papers in their journals of choice (preferably high-impact journals backed by reputable publishers). Although there are many secrets to writing, editing, identifying the right journal, submitting and getting accepted by that journal, and then passing the review and manuscript editing stages, every successful publication endeavor starts with choosing the right research topic. That is exactly what this blog helps researchers accomplish, irrespective of their experience levels.