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SOC3010/CCJ3010: Research Methods: Your Research Topic

Your Topic

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

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

  • Start with something that interests you,
  • Identify keywords in the topic area,
  • Find out what's already been written about the topic,
  • Find an area that hasn't been overly researched,
  • Develop your research question or thesis statement
  • Refine keywords to find the best articles for your topic.

Sample Topics

Choosing a Topic

For example: 

If your topic was exploring how cell phones affect social ties, your keywords might include:

  • cell phones, mobile phones, smart phones, mobile devices, iPhones, etc.
  • social ties, friendships, interpersonal relationships, family, 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!

You might also add a third keyword to your topic that identifies the population that you're interested in, such as college students, teenagers, or Americans, and your keywords might be:

  • college students, undergraduates, female college students, etc.

With this set of terms, you're ready to start your searching.  

Don't worry if you only have 2 keywords, to begin with.  Sometimes you need to do some reading before you are able to pin down a narrower topic.  BUT, if you find that you need 4+ terms to define your research, you may be too focused, and will want to rethink things.

Finally, come up with a research question or thesis statement that you will address in your research:

Research Question: How does cell phone use affect the interpersonal relationships of teens?

Thesis Statement:  Cell phones distract teens and make it more difficult to maintain quality relationships with friends and family.

Refine your keywords as you search to find the articles that best sum up your research needs... for instance, maybe teenagers would be a better term to use instead of teens.  Or, perhaps cell phones is too specific, and you'll want to look more broadly at mobile devices.

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.