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CUR 557 - Capstone Experience Development: Developing Your Topic

Developing Your Topic

Developing your research topic is about more than picking a topic. Research is about more than summarizing what your sources say about your topic. 

Developing your research topic is a process that continues throughout your research. During this process, you will explore possible areas of focus, explore the arguments, take a stance on your topic, and find information to support your position. Your topic and research question may change several times over the course of your research, and that's okay! Trust the research process, and ask a librarian for help if you hit a wall.

Focus and Narrow

When librarians help students do research, one of the biggest things we help them with is focusing their topic. These students quickly find out that an unfocused topic can quickly become a frustrating experience. If your topic is too broad or general, you'll encounter and have to dig through an overwhelming amount of information. Too narrow, and you won't find enough information to support your argument.

Here are some ways to go about focusing your research topic:
  1. Take into consideration the due date and length (words or page numbers) requirements. You want to make sure you can cover your topic sufficiently.
  2. Brainstorm everything you already know about your topic. 
  3. Think about what interests you or irks you about your topic.
  4. If you need to, Google your topic or look in reference sources like encyclopedias to get some background information on your topic.
  5. Put your topic in the form of a research question.
    • Example topic: doctor shortages
      • Research question: Why should nurse practitioners or physician's assistants fill the gap made by doctor shortages?
  6. Think about how your topic might be narrowed in these ways:
    • Group (Latino, high school students, male, teenagers)
    • Location (US, urban, elementary school)
    • Related events/phenomena (an event that gave new meaning to the topic, like texting on children's communication skills)
    • Key players involved (families, students, Board of Education, Horace Mann)
    • Time (modern, nineteenth century, history of, today)
  7. Finally, is your topic and research question arguable, and does it require analysis and interpretation rather than just stating facts?

Explore Arguments & Take a Stance

Even when you are taking a side on an issue and making an argument for your stance, you still need to present a balanced argument. The first step to presenting a balanced argument is to explore all the arguments before you pick a side. 

For Example: nurse practitioners/physician's assistants filling the gap caused by doctor shortages

  • Nurse practitioners are good alternatives to doctors and can help relieve doctor shortages.
  • Nurse practitioners are not an adequate substitute for doctors and should not be used to relieve doctor shortages.

You may strongly agree with one side or the other, but be careful not to let your personal bias slip into your research. Maybe there is not enough evidence to support your argument. For example, your topic on why vaccines are bad may need to be morphed into something like the impact of "small world" network among anti-vaxxers on social media instead.

Find Information

After you have focused your topic and chosen a stance to argue, it is time to find information that will support your argument.

Remember: your topic may very well change throughout your process of finding information! 

  1. Identify your gaps and the type of information you will need to fill them
    • Do you need more about the history of your topic? 
    • Statistics?
    • Research studies (the kind with a methodology, results, etc.)?
  2. Think back to all that brainstorming you did while narrowing your topic: what keywords can you pull to use while searching for sources?
  3. Identify keywords from your original topic and research question
    • Example: nurse practitioner, physician's assistant, doctor shortage
  4. Generate synonyms
    • physician supply, healthcare provider, medical professional
  5. Look at the database's controlled vocabulary (usually listed as Subjects or in a Thesaurus) and try searching by those