Tips for Identifying your Research Topic

The following notes were selected and gathered by the students, drawing from various college writing textbooks. They used Etherpad to synchronously record and organize the key ideas they found.

Approaching Your Research Project

Think of research as an active process of creating knowledge rather than a passive one of reporting information. (Foresman, 2007, 610)
Good research can make you a genuine expert (Lunsford, 2008, 212)
A research project should present you with a resonable problem to solve (Ruszkiewicz, 2003, 401)

Advice about the Process

When you begin any research it is impossible to know exactly what you will find out (Lunesford, 1996, 523)
Develop a research strategy! (Lunford,1989, 445)
Make sure you understand the requirements and limits of the assignments. (Lunford, 1989, 213)
Set a realistic schedule of deadlines. (Hacker, 2003, 520)
Make sure to allow a significant portion of your schedule for drafting and editing your work. (Hacker, 2003, 520)

Purpose

Determine your purpose (Faigly, 1947, 254)
Your purpose influences the research you do, which in turn refines your purpose. (Lunsford, 2002, 303)
Identify your potential readers (Faigley, 2009, 236)

Good Topics, Bad Topics

Nearly all subjects are worth writing about... (Hacker, 2006, 566)
Tired old material won't impress readers, no matter how serious its subject. (Lunsford, 2002, 304)
What subject might you like to become an expert on? (Lunsford, 1999, 440)
The central argument of a research paper should be grounded in facts; it should not be based entirely on beliefs. (Hacker, 2003, 523)

Lists and Questions

Build lists (Ruszkiewicz, 310 )
Pose possible questions worth exploring; preliminary questions. (Hacker, 2003, 49)
If you have trouble coming up with a list of questions, browse through certain library references for ideas (Hacker, 1998, 522)
Choose questions that are narrow, challenging, and grounded. (Hacker, 1998, 522)
Choose questions that are narrow (not too broad), challenging (not too bland), and grounded (not too speculative). (Hacker, 2003, 522)
Avoid bland questions that fail to provoke thought (Hacker, 1998, 523)
It would be a mistake, however, to use the bland question as the focus for the whole paper. (Hacker, 2006, 532)
If your initial question is too broad, look for ways to restrict your focus. (Hacker, 2003, 522)
You will want to make sure that your research question is grounded, not too speculative. (Hacker, 2003, 523)

Pre-Search Brainstorming Exercise

(based on worksheet from http://portangelesschools.org/pahs/documents/THEHANDBOOK2009.pdf)
What in the world fascinates you?
(List 3 things)

What do you already know about this topic?
(List 3 things)

What more would you like to learn?
(List 3 things)

Topic #1:
1.
2.
3.

1.
2.
3.
Topic #2:
1.
2.
3.

1.
2.
3.
Topic #3:
1.
2.
3.

1.
2.
3.
What personally interests you about Topic #1?
What personally interests you about Topic #2?
What personally interests you about Topic #3?



How does Topic #1 relate to or connect to your local community?
How does Topic #2 relate to or connect to your local community?
How does Topic #2 relate to or connect to your local community?



How does Topic #1 relate to or connect to the global community?
How does Topic #2 relate to or connect to the global community?
How does Topic #3 relate to or connect to the global community?



What ideas do you have now about developing one of these topics into your research question for the semester?


A Good Research Question should be . . .

Timely
Relevant
Clear
Researchable
Neither too narrow nor too broad.
Use the exercises in the Research Room of the Empire State University's Writer's Complex to help you understand these concepts.

Questions to ask your partner about his/her research question


Why are you passionate about . . . ?

What do you mean by . . . ?

What about . . . (fill in with counter argument or different position on the question)?

Who else is invested in this question? What might their perspective be?

Who will your audience be and how will you communicate your learning to them? What will they care about?