Friday, 11 January 2019

How to choose a research topic

Some students start their a capstone research paper with a clear idea of a research problem or have an embryonic research question. These students are quickly out of the blocks, and their research and project management progress is usually fairly smooth. Then there are those who have some idea of what they want to do. They spend the next five weeks scrambling to filter their ideas down to a clearly defined research question and usually have to pull an all-nighter to get their research proposal in on time.

However, there are also students who start with no topic area ideas at all. These students have some really tough decisions which need to be made very quickly. Any delay will run them out of time, with them not being able to meet the five week deadline for the research proposal submission. 

This article is to help those students to get to a research topic by the end of week one, so they can then narrow down their topic to a research question (read here about research questions) by week four. 

What we need to do is to find a empty classroom with a big whiteboard. We need some whiteboard markers, and to have our phone.

Then we fill the whiteboard with ideas. Each time we fill the whiteboard, we take a photo, clean the board, then start again:

  • List all the topic areas we like or are interested in
  • List any unanswered questions we have
  • List any assignment projects we would have liked to have taken further
  • List the theories which are our favourites
  • List the theories that we loathe
  • List all the topics that we avoid
  • List what we are good at (our strengths)
  • List the areas where we lack skills (our weaknesses)
  • Consider who we might like to be supervised by, and what their interests are. List where their interests might intersect with ours
  • List current “hot” topics
  • List marketable skills or areas for our work
  • List organisations whom we might like to work for.
Go through all our photos. Look for intersections where we have had three or more related ideas. Put those up on a clean white board. Now think about:
  1. Are we curious about it, or want to disprove it?
  2. Do we think that we are interested enough about this idea to become passionate about it?
  3. Do we know if there is a gap in academic literature? 
  4. Do we think we could apply this research topic locally?
  5. Could we apply this research topic to an organisation we want to work for?
  6. Would our potential supervisor be interested in this idea?
Those last six questions should knock some ideas out, and bring some ideas to the fore. This process can be done in an afternoon, and can get us up and running with a research topic by day two.

Speedy :-)


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