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SOC1020: Social Problems: Your Research Topic

What's a Keyword?

Keywords are simple words or phrases that sum up your topic, and can usually be pulled from your research question.

Simply eliminate those words and concepts that have no meaning, when on their own (How, does, the, etc.), and you're usually left with 2-3 good keywords to use in your research.

To find information on a topic, you would use one or more of your keywords to search for sources (books, media, articles, etc.) in the library's online catalog or databases.

Choosing a Topic

Every great research paper starts with a good topic, but it's not always so easy to come up with one.

Sometimes your professor will present you with a topic to research, but often you'll be asked to pick a one of your own to pursue.

While you should always be sure to work within the scope of the assignment, these tips can help you find a topic that works for you:

  • Start with a topic that interests you,
  • Identify keywords in the topic area, to use in your research,
  • Do a little preliminary research to see what's already been written on the topic
  • Look for an area of the topic that hasn't been overly researched/Find something new!
  • Develop your research question,
  • Develop a thesis statement

For example: 

If your topic was exploring how Muslim Americans are treated in the United States, your keywords might include:

  • Middle Eastern Americans, Arab Americans, Muslim Americans etc.
  • United States, America, New Jersey, etc.
  • Perceptions, treatment, discrimination, etc.

You would want to choose those that best define the topic you've chosen, and use them in your database searches.  As you do your preliminary research, you'll find that some keywords work better than others, and maybe even discover some new ones to add to your list!

An example of your research question might be:

How have perceptions of Muslim Americans changed in the decade following the attack on the World Trade Center?

Your thesis statement might be:

Immediately following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, Muslim Americans were viewed with suspicion by many Americans.  Over a decade later, these feelings persist in some, although suspicions have lessend for the majority of Americans.

Tips for Effective Search Strategies

  1. Searching works best when you have a research question in mind. You should be able to identify key concepts related to your research. These concepts form the basis for your search terms.
  2. Know your topic. Exploring general sources (a chapter in your textbook, an encyclopedia article or other background reading) is a good way to start. The better you undestand a topic, the easier it is to evaluate sources.
  3. What is your purpose? You may be writing an argumentative or persuasive paper. Or, your assignment may require you to analyze research on a topic. Perhaps you are developing a slide presentation based on your evaluation of key sources.
  4. Start early. Until you have done some searching and reading, you might not recognize if your topic is too broad or narrow.  Plus, the sources you need might not be available locally, so leave yourself time for Interlibrary Loan.
  5. Select resources appropriate  for your topic. Your professor may ask that you use only peer-reviewed journals. Other professors may want you to use a combination of texts and articles, or news sources. Perhaps you will be doing primary research using interviews or observations.

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