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How Do I Choose A Thesis Topic?
It is time to choose your thesis topic. You have reached that great capstone project, the thesis paper , and now need to prove your educational prowess through this lone work. While it is one task to write the thesis, it is a whole other task to choose your topic. This topic will in fact, govern the rest of the project and its outcome. By keeping these thoughts in mind you will be sure to choose a great topic and be off to a great start on your thesis.
Form a Question
There are many things to keep in mind when choosing the topic for your thesis. However, at its core, the thesis is nothing more than a simple question. There are many thought-invoking questions to be pondered. This is your golden opportunity to do just that. Each year, the David M Kennedy Honors Thesis Award, as well as the Firestone and Robert M Golden Awards, are presented to the most exceptional theses. For extra ideas and inspiration, check out some of this year’s winners .
Consider Your Audience
Whether it’s a thesis topic, or a project at work, it’s always wise to know your audience. Which teacher or professor is grading your final product? What are their preferences, ideals, or even aggravations? Playing into these areas with regard to your topic, structure, and style can possibly offer some great, tactical advantages.
Originality, Context, Execution
Originality, context, and execution are absolutely necessary components to a successful thesis paper. In the same respects, these qualities will be found within any good topic. Beginning with originality as a goal, try to recall some things in life you have wondered about that you surmised at the time were probably rare thoughts amongst peers. These small curiosities can lead to the greatest topics. If it’s something you hear regularly from others, it’s probably not going to pass judgements on originality.
Context and proper execution are also paramount to the chosen topic as well as thesis body. To provide the most relevant thesis, one must stay within proper context of their field of study. Be sure you are aiming for a question within your field and the desired realm of thesis requirements for your particular concentration. Also, consider wording. The execution of the posing of your question can have great effects on the rest of the task.
Consider Your Strengths
Another great consideration in choosing the topic of the thesis is to consider your strengths. This means to consider what you are good at. What are your interests and what are your particular strong suits that can be applied to a research project?
These are not your only strengths, however. Your proximity or affiliations to a person or place of interest can be great strengths. That old bookcase loaded with rarely-tapped knowledge could be a gold mine. What are your available resources? Look around and consider all of the things in your life that can be used as strengths in writing a thesis. In considering all these offerings you have at your disposal, choosing a topic may become much easier.
Follow Your Interests
In conclusion, the ultimate topic for you will be the one that keeps your interests perked and your engagement in this work vivacious. This will produce the very best topic and thesis. Choose a thesis topic with these things in mind, and you will be just fine.
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How to Select a Research Topic
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Selecting a Topic
The ability to develop a good research topic is an important skill. An instructor may assign you a specific topic, but most often instructors require you to select your own topic of interest. When deciding on a topic, there are a few things that you will need to do:
- brainstorm for ideas
- choose a topic that will enable you to read and understand the literature
- ensure that the topic is manageable and that material is available
- make a list of key words
- be flexible
- define your topic as a focused research question
- research and read more about your topic
- formulate a thesis statement
Be aware that selecting a good topic may not be easy. It must be narrow and focused enough to be interesting, yet broad enough to find adequate information. Before selecting your topic, make sure you know what your final project should look like. Each class or instructor will likely require a different format or style of research project.
Use the steps below to guide you through the process of selecting a research topic.
Step 1: Brainstorm for ideas
Choose a topic that interests you. Use the following questions to help generate topic ideas.
- Do you have a strong opinion on a current social or political controversy
- Did you read or see a news story recently that has piqued your interest or made you angry or anxious?
- Do you have a personal issue, problem or interest that you would like to know more about?
- Do you have a research paper due for a class this semester?
- Is there an aspect of a class that you are interested in learning more about?
Look at some of the following topically oriented Web sites and research sites for ideas.
- Are you interested in current events, government, politics or the social sciences?
- Try Washington File
- Are you interested in health or medicine?
- Look in Healthfinder.gov, Health & Wellness Resource Center or the National Library of Medicine
- Are you interested in the Humanities; art, literature, music?
- Browse links from the National Endowment for the Humanities
- For other subject areas try:
- the Scout Report or the New York Times/ College Web site
Write down any key words or concepts that may be of interest to you. Could these terms help be used to form a more focused research topic?
Be aware of overused ideas when deciding a topic. You may wish to avoid topics such as, abortion, gun control, teen pregnancy, or suicide unless you feel you have a unique approach to the topic. Ask the instructor for ideas if you feel you are stuck or need additional guidance.
Step 2: Read General Background Information
- Read a general encyclopedia article on the top two or three topics you are considering. Reading a broad summary enables you to get an overview of the topic and see how your idea relates to broader, narrower, and related issues. It also provides a great source for finding words commonly used to describe the topic. These keywords may be very useful to your later research. If you cant find an article on your topic, try using broader terms and ask for help from a librarian.
For example, the Encyclopedia Britannica Online (or the printed version of this encyclopedia, in Thompson Library’s Reference Collection on Reference Table 1) may not have an article on Social and Political Implications of Jackie Robinsons Breaking of the Color Barrier in Major League Baseball but there will be articles on baseball history and on Jackie Robinson.
Browse the Encyclopedia Americana for information on your topic ideas. Notice that both online encyclopedias provide links to magazine articles and Web sites. These are listed in the left or the right margins.
- Use periodical indexes to scan current magazine, journal or newspaper articles on your topic. Ask a librarian if they can help you to browse articles on your topics of interest.
- Use Web search engines. Google and Bing are currently considered to be two of the best search engines to find web sites on the topic.
Step 3: Focus on Your Topic
Keep it manageable
A topic will be very difficult to research if it is too broad or narrow. One way to narrow a broad topic such as “the environment” is to limit your topic. Some common ways to limit a topic are:
- by geographical area
Example: What environmental issues are most important in the Southwestern United States
- by culture
Example: How does the environment fit into the Navajo world view?
- by time frame:
Example: What are the most prominent environmental issues of the last 10 years?
- by discipline
Example: How does environmental awareness effect business practices today?
- by population group
Example: What are the effects of air pollution on senior citizens?
Remember that a topic may be too difficult to research if it is too:
- locally confined – Topics this specific may only be covered in these (local) newspapers, if at all.
Example: What sources of pollution affect the Genesee County water supply?
- recent – If a topic is quite recent, books or journal articles may not be available, but newspaper or magazine articles may. Also, Web sites related to the topic may or may not be available.
- broadly interdisciplinary – You could be overwhelmed with superficial information.
Example: How can the environment contribute to the culture, politics and society of the Western states?
- popular – You will only find very popular articles about some topics such as sports figures and high-profile celebrities and musicians.
If you have any difficulties or questions with focusing your topic,discuss the topic with your instructor, or with a librarian
Step 4: Make a List of Useful Keywords
Keep track of the words that are used to describe your topic.
- Look for words that best describe your topic
- Look for them in when reading encyclopedia articles and background and general information
- Find broader and narrower terms, synonyms, key concepts for key words to widen your search capabilities
- Make note of these words and use them later when searching databases and catalogs
Step 5: Be Flexible
It is common to modify your topic during the research process. You can never be sure of what you may find. You may find too much and need to narrow your focus, or too little and need to broaden your focus. This is a normal part of the research process. When researching, you may not wish to change your topic, but you may decide that some other aspect of the topic is more interesting or manageable.
Keep in mind the assigned length of the research paper, project, bibliography or other research assignment. Be aware of the depth of coverage needed and the due date. These important factors may help you decide how much and when you will modify your topic. You instructor will probably provide specific requirements, if not the table below may provide a rough guide:
Assigned Length of Research Paper or Project
Suggested guidelines for approximate number and types of sources needed
1-2 page paper
2-3 magazine articles or Web sites
|3-5 page paper|
4-8 items, including book, articles (scholarly and/or popular) and Web sites
6-15 items including books, scholarly articles, Web sites and other items
10-15 page research paper
12-20 items, including books, scholarly articles, web sites and other items
Step 6: Define Your Topic as a Focused Research Question
You will often begin with a word, develop a more focused interest in an aspect of something relating to that word, then begin to have questions about the topic.
Ideas = Frank Lloyd Wright or modern architecture
Research Question = How has Frank Lloyd Wright influenced modern architecture?
Focused Research Question = What design principles used by Frank Lloyd Wright are common in contemporary homes?
Step 7: Research and Read More About Your Topic
Use the key words you have gathered to research in the catalog, article databases, and Internet search engines. Find more information to help you answer your research question.
You will need to do some research and reading before you select your final topic. Can you find enough information to answer your research question? Remember, selecting a topic is an important and complex part of the research process.
Step 8: Formulate a Thesis Statement
Write your topic as a thesis statement. This may be the answer to your research question and/or a way to clearly state the purpose of your research. Your thesis statement will usually be one or two sentences that states precisely what is to be answered, proven, or what you will inform your audience about your topic.
The development of a thesis assumes there is sufficient evidence to support the thesis statement.
For example, a thesis statement could be: Frank Lloyd Wright’s design principles, including his use of ornamental detail and his sense of space and texture opened a new era of American architecture. His work has influenced contemporary residential design.
The title of your paper may not be exactly the same as your research question or your thesis statement, but the title should clearly convey the focus, purpose and meaning of your research.
For example, a title could be: Frank Lloyd Wright: Key Principles of Design For the Modern Home
Remember to follow any specific instructions from your instructor.
Practical Exercises to Extend Your Learning
Identify three narrower aspects of the following broad topics. In other words, what are three areas you could investigate that fit into these very broad topics?
Identify a broader topic that would cover the following narrow topics. In other words, how could you expand these topics to find more information?
Menus in Michigan prisons
Urban planning in Flint
Imagine that you have been assigned the following topics. Think of 5 keywords you might use to look for information on each.
How does air quality affect our health?
What are the barriers to peace in the Middle East?
Should snowmobiling be allowed in wilderness areas?
How can welfare reform help poor children?
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Choosing a Research Topic
Handbook of Graduate Supervision
Choosing a research topic and methodology should ultimately be a joint decision among you, your supervisor and your supervisory committee. Initially, however, the determination of a research topic is up to you and your supervisor. Be sure to discuss the research topic early in your student/supervisor relationship.
Graduate Supervisor Comments: Choosing a Research Topic
- “I will not take on a student unless their interest is a reasonable match with funding opportunities. I offer students a range of what I am currently able to support and I also consider the opportunities that may result from their own experiences.”
- “In team research, the student should know what his or her component is and how it links to the other research being done by the group.”
- “If the student arrives with his or her own funding (e.g. NSERC) then the student has more latitude in selecting the topic of interest. If the funding source is a research contract or grant, there is less latitude in topic selection because the supervisor must fulfill the original commitment and intent of the contract or proposal.”
- “Most of my new graduate students coming in already know what their research topic will be. Graduate students are expected to discuss their approach and research methods with me.”
- “It depends on the student and on funding. Some students come with excellent ideas that can be funded, while others prefer the supervisor to advise. I vary my approach according to the student and the current funding opportunities.”
Student Comments: Choosing a Research Topic
- “Start off by gathering ideas and manipulating them to see what you can come up with. This often requires a considerable amount of reading and discussion with researchers in this area.”
- “Review the current topics of research in this area and look for gaps in the knowledge?”
- “Read outside the specific area you are interested in as well, and look for opportunities for synthesis between two or more areas.”
- “Define your topic as clearly as possible. It must be limited and feasible. Most thesis projects are too ambitious.”
- “Make sure the books necessary for your research are available in the library. You should not have to rely on interlibrary loan for very important or lengthy materials.”
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