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Choosing a Strong Research Topic

Start Smart with Preliminary Research

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What is a Strong Topic?

You’ll be spending a lot of time on a research paper, so it is particularly important to select a topic that you really enjoy working with. But alas, it’s not that simple!

To make your project a success, you’ll have to ensure that the topic is strong, as well as enjoyable. What does this mean?

Unfortunately, you might find a topic that you like a lot, and go on to develop a strong thesis with no trouble at all. Then, you find yourself spending an afternoon at the library and discovering one or two problems.

    You could find that very little research is available on your subject. This is a common hazard that wastes time and disrupts your mental flow and confidence. As much as you may like your topic, you may want to give it up at the start if you know you’re going to run into trouble finding information for your paper.

    You may find that the research doesn’t support your thesis. Oops! This is a common frustration for professors who publish a lot. They often come up with intriguing and exciting new ideas, only to find that all the research points in a different direction. Don’t stick with an idea if you see lots of evidence that refutes it!

To avoid those pitfalls, it is important to select more than one topic from the start. Find three or four topics that interest you, then, go to the library or an Internet-connected computer at home and conduct a preliminary search of each topic.

Determine which project idea can be supported with plenty of published material. This way, you will be able to select a final topic that is both interesting and feasible.

Preliminary Searches

Preliminary searches can be done pretty quickly; there is no need to spend hours in the library. As a matter of fact, you can start at home, on your own computer.

Choose a topic and do a basic computer search. Take note of the types of sources that appear for each topic. For instance, you may come up with fifty web pages that concern your topic, but no books or articles.

This is not a good result! Your teacher will be looking for (and perhaps requiring) a variety of sources, to include articles, books, and encyclopedia references. Don’t select a topic that doesn’t appear in books and articles, as well as on web sites.

Search Several Databases

You’ll want to make sure that the books, magazine articles, or journal entries that you do find are available at your local library. Use your favorite Internet search engine at first, but then try using the database for your local library. It may be available online.

If you find a topic that’s widely researched and seems to be available in a number of books and journals, make sure those are books and journals that you can use.

For instance, you may find several articles—but then you realize later that they're all published in another country. They may still be found in your local library, but you'll want to check as early as possible, to make sure.

You could also find books or articles representing your topic, but they’re all published in Spanish! This is absolutely great if you are fluent in Spanish. If you don’t speak Spanish, it’s a big problem!

In short, always, take a few steps in the beginning to make sure that your topic will be relatively easy to research over the days and weeks to come. You don’t want to invest too much time and emotion in a project that will only lead to frustration in the end.

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