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DHC 140 - Research Writing in the 21st Century

Choose a Topic That Interests You

The topics available for you to select to research are often dictated by various factors, such as assignments, classes, professors, or research agendas. However, even within these constraints, it is important to find a topic that grab your interest.

If you have an open-ended assignment, browsing CQ Researcher can help you decide on a topic by giving you a jumping off point.

Preliminary Research

If you noticed, the first part of choosing a topic required you to do some background research.  Sometimes researchers select a topic, and then try to research it, often much later.

This can lead to a few problems:

  • The topic is too broad, or too narrow.
  • The researcher doesn’t know the specific vocabulary used to describe the topic.
  • Not enough has been written on the topic to complete an assignment.

As a result, finding information can to be frustrating, and may yield results that are less than ideal.

The simple step of researching as a topic is selected can often make the entire process much easier. This can be done if you follow these steps.

  1. Make certain to select a topic that interests you (librarians can help with this!).
  2. Read some background information on your topic.

And then....

  1. Create a research question.
  2. Do a test search on your topic, to see what is out there.
  3. Broaden or narrow your topic as necessary.

When you are doing background research on your topic you want to consult reference sources.  These can be encyclopedias found in the library or online; and yes, in this preliminary phase of research you can use Wikipedia.  Never cite Wikipedia in an academic paper, but if you are deciding if a topic interests you, go for it.  Just remember that Wikipedia is not consistent and while one entry might be accurate another one may not be.

Create a Research Question

Now that you’ve done your background research, your topic should be shaping itself more clearly to you. It can help at this point to create a concept or mind map that demonstrates the interconnected aspects of the topic and how they relate to each other.

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It’s now that you need to take the aspects of the topic that are of most interest to you, and form them into a question that your research assignment will answer. This question will guide your research forward, helping you to stay focused and relevant.

Example questions might be:

  • How has the obesity epidemic affected Native communities in the United States?
  • How has the economy of North Dakota been affected by fracking?

As you can see, these questions take specific aspects of the broader topics of “obesity” and “fracking,” and narrows them both into focused queries that a thesis statement then begin to answer.