Choosing a research topic is both the first step and the most important step in research. The appropriateness of the chosen topic significantly influences the main direction of the research and plays a decisive role in shaping the entire research process and its outcomes. So, how to choose a research topic wisely? This article will guide you through this crucial process.
Steps to choose a research topic
The general steps to choose a research topic typically involve the following:
- Determine the research direction and review a wide range of literature to identify potential topics;
- Assess the feasibility of the identified topics;
- Engage in communication with the lecturer/mentor to finalize and confirm the chosen topic;
These steps highlight the importance of conducting a thorough literature review, considering feasibility, and seeking guidance from the lecturer/mentor during the initial stages of topic selection.
The most challenging aspect of choosing a research topic lies in the initial research and problem discovery phase. The second challenge arises when assessing the feasibility of the topic, which involves sifting through an extensive amount of literature and data. The last step, involving communication with lecturers is relatively straightforward. In the following discussion, this article will elaborate on various techniques for students to choose a research topic and offer insights on how to navigate potential pitfalls based on these three critical components.
Determine the research direction and conduct an extensive literature search to identify a suitable topic
While the majority of students possess a foundational understanding of existing literature when they choose a research topic, there is a common issue of lack of innovation in the chosen topics. Three essential characteristics to consider during topic selection include:
Innovation: The chosen research topic should bring something new to the field.
Scope: Ensure the topic’s scope is specific and not overly broad.
Originality: Choose a research topic that has not been extensively studied before.
Generating entirely new ideas can be challenging, but employing a crossover approach can make the process more manageable and innovative.
Method 1: Begin by extracting three key words from the literature you have reviewed based on the general research direction.
Combine these keywords to formulate a potential research topic. Subsequently, choose a research topic and examine whether similar research has been conducted. If you discover comparable studies, carefully assess whether there is significant overlap with your intended research. If there is, consider revisiting and selecting a new topic. If not, it indicates the novelty of your chosen topic, as no similar research has been undertaken. The subsequent step involves assessing the feasibility of the selected topic.
Method 2: Extracting Topics from Extensive Literature Review
Prior to choosing a research topic and finalizing it, assemble a set of 30 relevant documents. Subsequently, aim to review these documents within a condensed timeframe of 2 to 3 days. During this intensive reading process, compare the content of these documents to identify a viable and promising research topic. For effective literature retrieval:
- Download 2 to 3 recent research reviews (published in the past five years) that provide an overview of the general directions within the field. Gain insights into the current advancements and identify areas with potential for further research, often outlined in the review’s outlook.
- Retrieve articles with research potential directly from the citations within these reviews, preferably focusing on works published within the past 3 years. This method can yield more than 10 relevant research paper, offering a comprehensive foundation for topic selection.
- Subsequently, choose a research topic, and conduct a thorough literature search on several directions identified as having research space in the reviews. This involves delving into the specific aspects of research covered within these directions, allowing for a preliminary assessment of their feasibility and potential for further investigation.
- A crucial aspect of this process is choosing a research topic and utilizing the method of comparison to pinpoint study ideas. Typically, students can organize 10 to 20 relevant articles into a Word or Excel file. This approach serves a dual purpose: it functions as a note-taking method during the literature review, and it facilitates efficient comparison without the need for constant page flipping. This organized compilation streamlines the process of identifying and assessing potential research ideas.
Determine the Feasibility of the Topic
Upon choosing a research topic, many students approach their lecturers or mentors with their choices after conducting the literature reviews. After selecting a research direction, a crucial step is to evaluate the feasibility of the chosen research topic. Numerous students share their selected topics with their lecturers or mentors, but the viability of these topics is often overlooked. The significance of this assessment lies in avoiding situations where students, after investing considerable time, realize the impracticality of their chosen topic, leading to wasted time and potential project delays. Therefore, making an informed judgment about feasibility is imperative.
The initial step to choose a research topic involves defining the scope of the study. It is crucial not to be swayed solely by the allure of a “big” topic, particularly for those venturing into research for the first time; starting with a “small” scope is advisable. Upon delving into the research process, one quickly realizes that even seemingly “small” problems encompass various intricate research questions. Take, for instance, the topic of “How to effectively implement machine learning,” which, despite its seemingly modest scope, encompasses diverse research inquiries such as “the different types of machine learning,” “the different applications which may require machine learning,” and “what is considered to be effective.” Tackling any one of these issues comprehensively poses a substantial challenge. Therefore, researchers must contemplate how to determine the scope of their research endeavors while choosing a research topic.
So, how to assess the feasibility of a project?
A project’s feasibility hinges on having substantial theoretical backing. For graduate students in science and engineering, numerous established theories and principles can serve as a foundation for research. Even in the case of new research, it is crucial to identify and integrate relevant theories. Undertaking research without adequate theoretical support poses significant risks.
Literature support is equally essential. By exploring relevant research information, particularly in interdisciplinary areas like crossover and optimization topics, one can gauge the feasibility of topic selection. The wealth of literature in these domains allows for a comprehensive assessment of the viability of chosen research directions.
Communicate with your lecturer or mentor to finalize topic selection
Once you have completed the initial steps, the process to choose a research topic becomes straightforward. The next and final step is to schedule a meeting with your lecturer to finalize the topic.
During the communication with your instructor, pay attention to the following:
Prepare a Detailed PPT: It is advisable to create a PowerPoint presentation that provides a comprehensive basis for your topic selection.
Emphasize Theoretical Support: Highlight the theoretical underpinnings that support your chosen topic to demonstrate its feasibility.
List Possible Problems: Be proactive in identifying and listing potential challenges or issues related to your chosen topic.
Avoid Over-Broad Topics: Ensure that the selected topic is specific enough to avoid being overly broad, emphasizing innovation.
If possible, incorporate all these points into your presentation, creating a clear and concise PowerPoint that can be easily understood at a glance. This approach enhances the effectiveness of your communication with the instructor and streamlines the finalization of the chosen topic.
The process of selecting a research topic is not just a procedural step; it is a vital prerequisite for successful research, especially in educational research. This phase significantly influences the primary direction, objectives, and content of both current and future scientific endeavors for researchers. Moreover, it sets the guidelines for the methods and approaches to be employed in educational research. Proficiency in formulating pertinent research questions is the cornerstone of successful scientific inquiry and plays a decisive role in determining research outcomes. Notably, improper topic selection stands out as a key factor contributing to the failure of educational research endeavors.
After choosing your research topic, you may be interested in looking at strategies to improve your research writing. You may also be interested to look at this article by MIT that summarizes important points to choose a research topic.