The Ellen Clarke Bertrand Library

How to Start Your Research: A DIY Guide

Choosing a topic

The first step to completing an academic research project is coming up with a viable topic.  How do you decide what to write your research paper about?  First you’ll have to answer these questions:

  • -Has your professor assigned a specific topic?
  • -Have they given you a list of topics to choose from?  

If the answer to either of these questions is yes, then you can skip to the next section!

However, if you are expected to choose a topic on your own, then you have some work to do.  Think about the following questions:

  • -What do you already know?  
  • -What do you want to learn?  
  • -What are you interested in?

The following preliminary activities will help you choose a topic:

  • -Reviewing assignment parameters will help you select a topic of appropriate breadth/detail.
  • -Freewriting (writing a few sentences) is an excellent way to help organize your thoughts, and may help you formulate a research question.  
  • -Background research and reading will help you gather supporting information, including what research has already been done on the subject, and may give you ideas about directions to go in. 
  • -Re-reading your textbook, as well as any articles or other documents your professor has assigned. 

Revising and narrowing your topic:  As you read and review sources, you may find that your original topic is too broad or too narrow.  You may also find that there is just not enough research available upon which to base your research paper, which also may necessitate revising your topic. Some questions to ask as you revise:

  • -What subtopics relate to the broader topic?
  • -What questions do these sources raise?
  • -What is interesting about the topic?
  • -Who would be interested in the issue, and who is your audience?

(Some text adapted from University of Indiana)

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DIY Research

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