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Picking Your Topic IS part of the Research Process: Home

Picking Your Topic IS part of the Research Process

Picking YOUR Topic is Research

You have a research paper on a topic of your interest. Your professor has strict parameters for the structure of the paper as well as the type of research you can use (peer-review journals, newspaper articles, etc.) You decided want to do a paper on ‘social media’. Great! Right? So, this means you can get started on your research and start writing your paper, this is Awesome. Well… NO, this is not exactly how the process really works.

Picking a Topic or Research Question IS ACTUAL RESEARCH and part of the research process. When you first pick a research topic, it isn’t set in stone. It’s just a general idea of something that interest you, that you will test with some exploratory research. If you like the results you are finding and it seems to provide answers to the questions you are trying to answer in your paper, then it looks like you can continue to find additional sources and start your paper. HOWEVER, if you are finding very limited results or too big a range of results, then now is the time to tweak your topic choice or even change it completely.

This LibGuide will assist you through the 'Topic' selection process.

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Topic Selection Process

Picking a topic is intertwined with finding and reading (YES, reading) sources.

When you first pick a topic to perform research on, this topic isn't set in stone. It's an idea that you have to test with exploratory research. (Similar to a scientist exploring a hypothesis with experiments. The Scientist starts with an idea and must go through trial and error to get the correct results). If the topic seems good (and by good, we mean it yields promising, useful search results for your paper), you will find and read some more sources, to ensure you are in fact on the right track and approach you want your paper to be about. At this point, you may learn or find that the published research leads you away from your original topic or thesis. AND THIS IS COMPLETELY FINE! Sometimes, more so than often this WILL occur. This is why you must research the topic you want to write about before deciding this IS THE TOPIC OF CHOICE.

Now you should let the research you have found guide you and start tweaking your topic a little. By learning and exploring the topic further, you will find you have enough sources to start writing and editing your paper. Occasionally, you may find that you need to pull additional pieces of information and return to the research cycle. This is completely normal and part of the process, if you have to do this.


Example using the Topic Selection Process

So your topic choice is ‘Social Media’. You go into the library's database to find articles on social media. For this topic, I decided to use the first database in the A-Z list "Academic OneFile" (Choosing a database is GOING TO BE a TRIAL and ERROR experience. Please read the database descriptions to help narrow down what database BEST applies to your topic of choice) I searched "Social Media" in Academic OneFile and got over 40,000 results. Hmmm, that's a lot of articles to go through. One of the 1st ways of filtering search results is to make sure you check the 'Full-text' option, this way you will only get results that will give you the full text of the article. By selecting this, I was able to narrow down my results to 30,000 BUT that is still TOO many results for me to go through. So my next step is to ask a few questions, that will help narrow down my search results.

What about ‘social media’ interest you? ‘Social media’ alone is an excellent subject matter, it is too broad a topic for a 6-page paper. Let’s reexamine what picking a topic or determining a research question really entails.

Let’s pretend I know very little about my topic choice, as the video will demonstrate, I can explore other subjects within my topic choice that the database has already identified. For the topic of ‘Social Media’ Academic OneFile has identified over 15 subjects within ‘Social Media’, so I will scroll this list and identify subjects of interest. ‘College Students’ interests me, and I see I have a little under 400 results for ‘College Students’ (for this example) I will choose ‘College Students’.

When I see the search results for ‘College Students’ I realize well maybe this is a lot to go through. What about ‘Social media’ and ‘College Students’ do I want to explore? I can either browse the search results or I can look at the subjects that are within this filtered search result. Once again, there is a plethora of subjects within this filtered search result, and I notice that ‘Social media’ is one. Hmmm, I am curious as to what types of social media college students utilize, so maybe I want to explore this search result a little further. It gives me a little over 20 results, something tha tis easy to review, so I try this.

In the event that this is too narrow of a topic, I can go back and explore other topic options within ‘Social Media’ or even “Social Media and College Students” until I found the topic of choice that yields promising results, but not an overwhelming amount of results. Something that is practical to go through.

Once I have mastered finding the perfect topic, with useful resources I can refer to my professor’s instructions and start the process of reading my sources and writing my paper in the requested format.

If you want to know more about the research process or about how to pick a good topic, Ask a Librarian for help!