Selecting a research topic is one of the most important decisions a student should make during their academic career. Creating a great academic paper requires a certain set of skills and inclinations. The most difficult component of a good master’s program is finding the right approach and dedication to produce a contemporary relevant piece of research.
The topic you choose plays an important role in the outcome of your research project. There is a probability that your topic will change several times as you progress through the early stages of research and thus you do not have to worry if your first few ideas turn into dead ends.
What is a good research topic?
A good research topic should have well-defined objectives. It is important to ensure you select a research topic that will be interesting for the entire research duration. Avoid going for a topic that you only have a vague interest in as excelling in this topic will be very difficult. Always pick a topic that you have a genuine interest in.
Ensure you have the required skills and resources or you can develop the capability necessary to research the topic within the given time frame. Be sure that you get all the data necessary for the research. You should be familiar with the research topic and have the capacity to produce a well-written final research report.
Steps to follow when choosing a good research topic
- Brainstorm for ideas
Brainstorming is a problem-solving technique that generates the best results when carried out as a group but it can also be done by an individual. If you want to brainstorm, find a quiet place to work and write down the problem you want to solve. You can come up with a problem related to your lectures or curriculum that interests you and you have previous knowledge about it.
When working in a group, members can make suggestions regarding the problem. Make a note of all the suggestions and include all contributions without considering how they seem. Once you have written everything, review each suggestion with your group and select the ones that you feel make more sense. You can also decide to discuss your points with your supervisor or the teaching assistant in charge of your project.
- Read general background information
Based on the 3 topics you have selected, read one or two articles on each to have an overview of each topic. When reading the articles pay attention to the keywords you see at the end of the abstract.
- Focus on your topic
Keep your topic manageable because a topic that is too broad or too narrow can be very difficult to research. To narrow a broad topic, you can limit it.
- Be flexible
Switching your research topic during the research process is very common as you are never certain of what you will find in the research process. You can find an excessive and wish to narrow down your focus or find insufficient and wish to broaden your focus. When researching, although you might not want to change your topic, you might decide that another aspect of the subject is more interesting or manageable and decide to major in that.
- Define your topic as a focused research question
In most cases when searching for a research topic, you might decide to start with a word, develop a more focused interest in a facet of something concerning the word, and then begin to create questions about the subject.
- Research and skim more about your topic
You can use the keywords you have about the topic to research within the catalog, article database, and internet search engines. Find more data to help you in answering your research questions. Before settling on your final topic, you have to do some research and reading to determine whether you can find enough information to answer your research question. Always remember that selecting a research topic is one of the most crucial and sophisticated parts of the research process.
- Formulate a thesis statement
Once you have decided on the topic, write it as a thesis statement. This can be the solution to your research question and/or how to state the aim of your research. Your thesis statement should be one or two sentences that state what is to be answered, proven, or what you intend to educate your audience about your topic. The development of a thesis statement assumes that there is enough evidence to prove your thesis statement.
Factors to consider when choosing a good research topic
The selection of a research topic is one of the most important considerations in every research. A research topic forms the basis for all the efforts a researcher puts into the research. Several considerations will help you streamline your thoughts and formulate a manageable and interesting research topic. Consider the following factors:
- A topic you are curious about
When choosing a research topic, go for a topic that you know a little about but still have a quest to know more about it. Don’t go for a topic that you know everything about it because you are likely to bring up everything you know about the topic in your paper which is not the aim of writing a research paper. Your research paper should be your journey to know the answers to questions you are curious about.
- A topic that interests you
Go for a topic that seems interesting to you. In case you select a topic that you are not interested in, you may not be able to work on it in the best way possible. Most researchers and professionals at the advanced level select topics that they are curious about and you should not be an option. They do not just select a random question and start working on it as there are several factors they have to consider. Selecting a topic that you are interested in means that you will be happy working on it and you will have better results.
To find out the topics that excite you, you can consider the topics that you studied with passion over the course of your studies. Ask yourself what the most interesting topics in your course are and try to explore them. Apart from the topics being interesting to you, you should try to find out whether the topics interest other students in your class. Although having a topic that interests you is important, you should also try to find a topic that is objective, directional, and easy to research.
- A manageable topic
Although every researcher has limited resources, especially time, you should go for a topic that you can complete before the set deadline. Choose a topic that you can justify within the given time frame because late submission of assignments can make it hard for you to get your degree or it can delay your graduation. Don’t let your interest lead you into selecting a topic that is hard to manage using the available resources. In case you go for a topic that is interesting and inspiring to you, try to narrow it down for it to be workable.
- A significant topic
What change will the research on your topic bring to the world around you? You should always go for a topic that can solve problems that exist in real life. Most people enjoy reading research papers that have practical implications. Such topics are also favorites to most teachers and this is likely going to earn you a good grade.
A significant topic is one of the best topics for research but this does not mean choosing any topic that promises to give a solution. Some topics are engaging, promising, and have significance but you can not manage them in the given time and thus you should not select them as your research topics. Thus, this should be your secondary preference when it comes to selecting a research topic.
- Avoid over-exhausted topics
Avoid those popular topics that have been over-exhausted. Although popular topics have a lot of information available that you can quote in your research paper, they do not catch the attention of teachers and other readers. If you go for a popular topic, you can end up writing a duplicate paper even when you did not aim to do so. If this happens, you might be accused of plagiarizing your content even in a case where you did not copy your content from other sources.
- A challenging topic
Some people enjoy researching and writing about challenging and demanding topics. Going for a topic that is challenging can be daunting as it requires more of your resources. Go for a topic that represents a good challenge but weigh the available literature on that topic to avoid having problems later in the writing process. Always remember that you are bound by the time requirement and you should go for a topic you can handle within the specified time.
- Availability of sources
Resources that can help you develop a topic should be available so you can quote them when writing your paper. Selecting a topic that lacks resources can make working on this topic very difficult. Ample reference material is necessary as it will make it easy for you during the research and writing process. You can seek help with source material from a librarian before you finalize your topic. Making changes to your research topic is easier but when you start writing your research paper, it becomes more difficult. Thus, you should research the sources and materials and only start writing when you are sure all the important information is available to avoid confusion when writing your research paper.
Please make sure you narrow down your topic several times before you finally decide on the final topic that you want to write a research paper on. Make all the necessary changes at this stage and you will be happy you did it. You can ask your instructor for assistance if you are not sure whether the topic you have chosen will work or not.
Common mistakes to avoid when choosing a good research topic.
- Selecting a research topic directly from the discussion of a recent paper. Research papers usually show you what further research should focus on. Although it might seem smart to heed the suggestion, choosing a research topic is far from original. A good research paper has to be both smart and original.
- Allowing your supervisor to select a research topic for you. Although your supervisor might have a better overview of the field and even have better ideas on what you should focus on, working on your ideas and the topics you are interested in is much more rewarding in the long run.
- Underestimating complexity, timelines, and required budget. Try to come up with a realistic plan about how you are going to execute your study. It is easy to underestimate the complexity, timelines, and budget but planning ahead of time will give you better chances of success.
- Sticking with your original research question or topic no matter what. During the literature review, you might decide that you want to stray away from your original topic. Don’t be scared of pivoting or changing your research topic while still in the early stages as in some cases, inspiration might be triggered by the research itself.
How to develop an original research topic
If you want to come up with an original topic, the following tips will guide you:
- Read a wide range of materials to find a subject that you are passionate about.
- Immerse yourself in journal articles and theses associated with your subject.
- Narrow your focus on a single research question. Be specific, original, and realistic about what you can achieve.
- Take a flexible approach. During the research process, you might find that your initial ideas are challenged and you might have to change or modify your question if necessary.
- Make sure you stay up-to-date with the most recent developments in your field. This will make your idea achievable ensuring it has not been addressed by another researcher.
Please note that discussing your idea with your lecturer or supervisor is very important as they have all the experience and expertise to guide you on the choice of your research topic and provide ideas for your research proposal.