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Doing Research from a Distance Tutorial: #2: Identify & Develop Topic

Step 2: Identify & Develop Your Topic

Finding Your Topic:

fortune teller with a crystal ballIf your topic isn't assigned, ask yourself these questions to get going:

  1. What subjects do you know about?
  2. What subjects might you like to become an expert on?
  3. What subjects evoke a strong reaction from you - intense attraction, puzzlement, or skepticism?
  4. Still having problems finding a topic? Skim textbooks, class notes, current magazines or standard reference works.

Work to Narrow & Focus Your Topic:

Consider the scope of your assignment - writing about World War II in general is too broad; there's no way to effectively write about all of WWII in a standard sized research paper and make a coherent point. Instead, move to a specific aspect of WWII. For instance, how about focusing on the Battle of Midway, and then going to a specific focus of that battle - the role of communications intelligence in the U.S. victory in the battle.

Ask a Research Question & Develop a Hypothesis:

Stating your topic as a question and then turning it into a hypothesis can also help you focus your topic and find supportive research data. A hypothesis is a statement of what you anticipate your research will show. Just like a thesis statement, a hypothesis must be manageable, interesting and specific, and it must be arguable - a debatable proposition that can be proved or disproved by research data.

For example, say you're interested in the effect of music education in grades K-8 on academic achievement, then you might come up with a question such as, "What effect does participation in music education programs in grades K-8 have on individual student achievement in U.S. public schools today?" Once you have a question, then you can do some preliminary reading to learn more about your topic, and then you may propose this hypothesis: "Participation in a music program during grades K-8 can have a positive affect on individual student achievement for students attending public school in the U.S. today."

Self-portrait: Frida KahloHere's another example of narrowing and focusing by finding a research question and hypothesis:

Topic: Frida Kahlo's art
Issue: Influences on Kahlo's art
Research Question: What were the major influences on Kahlo's work?
Hypothesis: The events of her own life were the central influence on Kahlo's work.

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