Choosing a research topic can be a frustrating experience; if you don't choose a good topic, it can make the entire research process frustrating as well. It pays to spend some time up front choosing a good, interesting topic. With a solid topic in hand, not only will the research process be easier, but (dare I say it?), it may also be enjoyable.
With that in mind, here are some general tips to keep in mind when choosing your topic.
Throughout the quarter, make a note of topics or readings that are particularly interesting. Don't leave it to the last minute, when it may be more difficult to remember class discussions that piqued your interest. The longer you have to consider possible topics, the longer you have to come up with something brilliant.
You are going to be spending a lot of time researching your topic and then writing about it. Choose something that you are interested in and want to learn more about. If you are interested in your topic, your project will not only be easier to complete, but it will also be more meaningful to you.
As you start to research your initial topic, you may have to narrow or broaden your scope. You may find something even more interesting as you go along. It is a normal part of the research process to alter and refine your topic; so stay flexible.
Before you choose a topic, you need to clearly understand the assignment requirements. How long will the final paper be? What types of sources are you expected to use: scholarly journals or popular sources? What should the voice of the paper be: objective or subjective? Ask your instructor for clarification if you have any questions.
You can get ideas for topics by taking a look at other sources on the issue. Look at:
Science.gov: Check out this link to Science.gov's Agriculture & Food section. From here, you can browse governmental resources about Food Safety, Food Science & Technology, and Food Supply for ideas.
PBS.org Browse and watch videos to spark your interest.
Once you have a general idea for a topic, it is time to gather some background information on it. This will help you to learn more about your topic and help you to brainstorm keywords for your search or other angles for your topic. Sources such as encyclopedias are good for background info; try some of the ones listed below.
So you have a general idea for a topic and have done some searching. You are frustrated because your search produced thousands and thousands of results. Either that, or you only found five articles on your topic. What do you do next? It is time to refine your topic by either narrowing or broadening your scope.
Sometimes less is more. If you are getting too many results that aren't very focused, consider narrowing the scope of your project. You can narrow your topic by limiting it using some of the following options.
Time: Limit the time span that you are looking at. Narrowing your search to the last ten years, for example, will produce fewer results.
Place: Limit your topic by geographic area. Try limiting by country, state, or even city.:
Event: Instead of focusing on The Civil War, for example, choose a particular battle as your topic.
Population: Limit your search by age, race, gender, or occupation. Focusing on a particular population will narrow your focus.
Sub-area: Look at a particular area of a discipline. Instead of researching genetically modified food, look at genetically modified corn.
Example of Broad Topic: Cloned Animals
Example of Narrower Topic: Are Cloned Animals Safe for Children in the U.S. to eat?
If your search is too narrow, however, you won't retrieve enough information to complete your assignment. You may have to:
- Remove some of the limiters that you already have on your topic (i.e. time, population group)
- Search additional databases for more information
- Brainstorm additional keywords that could be used to describe your topic
- Use broader terminology instead of specific jargon