How to choose research topics, in 8 steps
The process of choosing a research topic, whether for a class project or to launch more ambitious research whose results can be published in journals, is a headache for many people. When you are clear about the question you are going to try to answer through qualitative or quantitative studies, at least there is already a guideline to follow, but if you don’t have that, many people often get blocked.
In that article we will see several tips that will help you to choose research topics , especially in those fields of knowledge related to psychology, social sciences and other similar fields.
How to choose research topics?
The problem of not having a research question is something similar to what happens in writer’s block: the discomfort, frustration, and anxiety that come with not getting past that phase can, over time, generate the effect of self-fulfilling prophecy. In other words, the person feels less motivated, tends to avoid thinking about it again, or conducts unsystematic searches without hope of finding anything.
Therefore, it is important not to let the problem become entrenched and to choose not to carry out this search for research topics in a chaotic way , to try to follow a method with its phases. The simple fact of noticing that even if you do not have a question from which to start the project, you go through phases, helps not to waste time and at the same time motivates you to continue progressing.
1. Search in research compilers
Quality research findings are being published regularly in many places on the Internet. Scanning these web pages or Twitter profiles (where many researchers spread their content or that of their colleagues) is very helpful in order to have, in a short time, clues from which to continue the search .
2. Select the most interesting topics
From the previous step, choose the ones you are interested in and order them according to the degree to which each of them motivates you .
3. Select keywords
Each research topic contains a semantic tree of keywords. For example, in psychology there are the concepts of bias, cognitive dissonance or heuristics. All of them create a nebula of ideas from which a question can be asked. For example, you can enter them in scientific article search engines, such as Google Scholar.
4. Read the first sections of the papers
The vast majority of papers published in scientific journals have, in their first pages, a commentary on the latest findings and a section summarizing the state of affairs of a particular line of research, posing hypotheses and opposing explanatory models, and highlighting the evidence for and against each of the ideas
In this way you will get a more global idea of what the topic is about and what kind of information you can count on to carry out research in this sense.
5. Look up the amount of information available
Some lines of research are more developed than others. Even if there is a topic you are very interested in, there may not be enough information to investigate with the media you have. Look for meta-analysis on the topic, quality research on that starting question, etc.
6. Imagine interactions between variables
Based on what you know about a particular topic, imagine an original question that has not been addressed directly by other researchers. For example, you can see if a phenomenon studied by others occurs in a region of the planet that no one has focused on before.
7. Ask a question
One of the fundamental aspects of knowing how to choose a research topic has to do with transforming the topic you are interested in into a question . Only in this way will you establish in a concrete way what your research will be about: pointing out what that knowledge gap is that we will try to fill in with new information. In this way there will be no ambiguity and no confusion when developing the project.
Technically, you already have a research topic, but there is still one step to go.
8. Decide if you have what it takes
Is it realistic to research that? Some topics are relatively simple to deal with, as there is a lot of data available from other sources, but sometimes you have to pay for access to this information or it doesn’t even exist and you have to collect original information yourself using hundreds of questionnaires or equally expensive methods. Decide if it pays off.