Developing Your Topic
Contact: Prof. Monty L. McAdoo, User Education Librarian (Room 231), 814-732-1070
Many students will pick a topic they have no interest in but for which they know they'll find information easily. Sometimes this is because they don’t know how to locate and use resources effectively. Many times, though, a lot of students will start their research without a clear idea of what type(s) of information they're trying to find. The information below can be used to help get you started.
What type of information is needed?
List and analyze your topic’s components and the relationships among them. For example, Before you start your actual research, you need to determine what type(s) of information will answer your questions. This may seem obvious. But, a lot of beginner researchers don't think about it. Some considerations include:
1) Current knowledge: what do you already know?
Is what you know enough or do you need to find supporting information?
2) Future knowledge: what do you want to learn?
This includes content as well as format (e.g. text? statistics? pictures?)
3) Specificity: do you want a general overview or specific facts/figures?
4) Quantity: how much information do you want/need?
5) Deadline: when do you need the information?
Remember: interlibrary loan takes time, especially for books
List and analyze your topic’s components and the relationships among them. For example, how much can your subject change (e.g. year to year) and yet stay the same? Is the information specific to a time and/or location? Some other ways of analyzing your subject include:
1) Chronologically – by time sequence/period
e.g. U.S. History 1941-45
2) Comparing/Contrasting – how are two or more elements similar/different?
e.g. Creation myths of Hindus and Christians
3) Topically – breaks topic into smaller units
e.g. Song lyrics and their effect on youth attitudes towards police
4) Problem-Solution – states a problem and then proposes a solution
e.g. How to best educate those with mental disabilities/learning disorders.
5) Opinion-Reason – personal opinion supported by research of others
e.g. 55 MPH speed limit doesn’t save lives
Explore relevant perspectives
Research is never conducted in a vacuum. You need to determine which perspective(s) you wish to reinforce or eliminate.
1) Primary sources reflect the original researcher’s perspective whereas secondary sources reflect someone’s perspective on the original.
2) Many topics carry over into other categories.
e.g. abortion can be seen as both a political and medical issue.
3) Sources themselves have different philosophical biases/perspectives
e.g. Perspectives on Family Planning and Christianity Today will probably have
dramatically different views on issues such as abortion and birth control.
4) Geographical considerations
e.g. The London Times often reported on attacks on London during World War II
differently than New York Times because London was being attacked directly
whereas New York was not.
Develop a list of keywords, concepts, people, dates, and so on which you can look for when you begin your research. Keep (re)defining this list as you progress through your research.
Some Brainstorming Techniques
1) Clustering – reflects relations between concepts
Write-down your topic and circle it, write-out the main parts, and connect them
2) Listing – recall what you know/need to find out.
-- Use short phrases and include anything that’ll be useful
-- Reflect and organize
-- Rank ideas, put them into related groups, cross out or add relevant ones
3) Cubing – provides quick, multiple perspectives from six sides
-- Analyzing (how’s it made or related?)
-- Associating (reminds of what?)
-- Applying (what’s use?)
-- Arguing (For? Against?)
4) Dramatizing – think of your topic as a play describing the relations between and among the following:
-- Action = what
-- Motive = why
-- Actor = who
-- Setting = when/where
5) Looping – write on topic nonstop for 10 minutes; if you get stuck, rewrite. Decide what’s most important and express it in a single sentence. Then, write again for 10 minutes. Summarize. Repeat until a thesis is produced.