Identifying a Research Topic

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Identifying a topic for your research is one of the most difficult tasks in the research process. It involves a lot of reading, understanding, and thinking. It needs a set of skills and is quite a time consuming process. However, once you are clear about your interests and goal, the process becomes interesting and involving.

Your research topic needs to be focused and narrow, yet broad enough to get information and work on specific factors.

Steps in identifying a research topic

Identify broad areas of interest

Your first step is to identify your research area and list down topics that interest you within your subject area / specialization. It needs to be the kind of topics that you are passionate about and yearn for indepth knowledge. For example, topics for what you need more information or would like to look at from different perspectives. Alternatively, topics that you like to probe for sharing with others or for simply adding to a body of existing knowledge. More importantly, it needs to be researchable topics. However, be careful in choosing research topics that are feasible, and within your scope of knowledge and abilities. Another important factor in identifying a research topic is to consider how significant and useful it will be to other academicians, professionals, and leaners.

Once you have broadly listed down the topics based on your interest, make a thorough analysis of the topics in terms of availability of literature, trends, unexplored areas, need for the study, and your approach to the topic, outcome of the study and so on. Moreover, avoid topics that are common, popular, outdated, local, irrelevant to your geographical location, culturally offensive, unrealistic or very recent.

Once you have identified few topics, write down the keywords and concepts to develop from a research point of view.

Collect Information

The next step is to collect information on the topics identified. Background research is important for you to understand the feasibility and relevance of proceeding with a research topic. Browse for available literature, research findings, and facts. Discuss with experts and scholars to know more about the topics. Brainstorm with research supervisor, friends, and professionals to get their viewpoint. Essentially, read varied journals, news articles, magazines and engage in productive internet browsing to get a focused view of the topics. The idea is to get a realistic picture for undertaking the research topic.

Narrow down your topic

Having a broad topic will be cumbersome and unrealistic. Furthermore, conducting research on a broad area will result in losing your focus and satisfying the outcome of the research. Therefore, you need to have a topic that is precise and definable. You need to make sure that the topic is relevant and relative to your location, timespan, field of study, and target group.

For example, if your area of interest is Organizational Climate, it will be too broad and out of focus to carry out a study as such.

Therefore, consider narrowing it down to address specific concerns. Such as based on –

Location – How does organizational climate influence job satisfaction of employees in South America?

Timespan – Has organizational climate changed in IT sectors over the past 10 years?

Field of Study – What are the entrepreneurial factors affecting the organizational climate of a SME?

Target Group – How does organizational climate factors influence the performance of teachers and nurses?

Keep the topic simple, clear, and focused. When you come across key terms and related concepts note them down. Also, be prepared to modify your topic if you do not get enough literature or if the topic has been studied widely. Keep searching for information. If there is an information overload, then you need to narrow down the topic. In case you do not get much information, then you need to broaden the topic.

Research for more Information

Intensive review of literature is required once you have identified a topic for research. Collect in-depth information about the topic from different sources. This will help you to identify unexplored areas or gaps in the available research. Furthermore, intensive study of existing literature will help you to understand commonly focused areas and if similar research topics as yours are already available. As a result, you will be able to select an original topic. Remember to collect information from authentic sources, library resources, and reputed journals.

Decide appropriate Research Questions

Based on the topic, develop few research questions that you will address in the research process. Writing down the research questions will help you to have a direction in the research process. It will help you to set the objectives and the hypothesis of the research.

Formulate a Problem Statement

The next step is to formulate a problem statement based on the research questions that you have identified. A problem statement is a concise and logical statement about the research focus and describes what exactly you will be proveing / analyzing / answering as an outcome of the research process. It explains the purpose of the research.

Are you currently involved in the process of identifying a research topic? Use this task sheet to identify and narrow down your topic.

Task Sheet for Identification of a Topic

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Kothari CR, 2010, Research Methodology: Methods and Techniques