How to Choose the Perfect Research Topic
Many of my students (and researchers) believe that choosing a research topic is the most difficult part of the research process. While it is no easy feat, there are some tried-and-true steps that you can follow to make this process less daunting - and perhaps even enjoyable!
Here you will be provided with four key steps to help you generate a research project in a simple, stress-free manner.
First and foremost, the topic you choose should be personally interesting to you. Most research papers will take hours, if not days to complete, thus you want to make sure that you actually enjoy the topic. Even if a paper is limited to topics for a specific class assignment, try to find a topic that you will continue to find interesting even when going gets tough.
Pro Tip: Ask yourself: “What topics pass the ‘8-hour rule,’ i.e., will they continue to excite me after spending a full workday on them?”
Once you have generated a list of topics that are interesting to you, it's time to think about the novelty of each topic. If you are writing this for a class, you may only have to make sure that you are writing about a topic that is unique from your other classmates. However, if you are writing this with the hopes of submitting it for publication you should make sure that the specific topic you choose has not been researched before. This simply means that your research topic has to be specific enough to make it a unique, novel addition to its field, not that it has to win you the Nobel Prize.
Pro Tip: Ask yourself: “Is my topic unique and, if not, how can I make it more specific to make sure it is unique? Who else has researched this topic before? What have they already concluded?”
The next two steps have to do with choosing the most feasible research topic. First, you should brainstorm what type of data sources you will need for the particular research project. For example, is your project going to require you to synthesize existing research, or is it going to require that you create your own research? Are the data sources required to dive into your topic available to you?
Pro Tip: Ask yourself: “What topics can I research using my current data resources?”
The last key factor that you should consider when picking a research topic is whether or not you have enough time to finish the research. To do this, you should create a timeline of your research. As a rule of thumb, It is good to overestimate the amount of time you will need for each step to leave room for unexpected obstacles. If your research topic will take too much time, consider either simplifying it, or going back to the drawing board.
Pro Tip: Ask yourself: “Can I finish researching this topic in a timely manner? What are my time restrictions? Can I simplify my plan in order to simplify the research timeline?”