DEFINING A TOPICProperly selecting a topic can save you time when you start looking for information. This section will help you with: • Choosing a meaningful topic – one that interests you. • Focusing your topic – choose an aspect to discuss in your paper • Identifying key concepts to use when you begin searching • Writing a clear research question or thesis statement that will guide your research.
Choosing a topic The first step in any research assignment Select one:My instructor assigned a topic: I must choose a topic:• Identify potential areas of • Start by selecting a broad topic interest in the topic • Then explore it to focus on• Focus your topic by selecting specific issues. one or two key ideas that you will want to expand • This will help you to pinpoint key ideas to use in your paper.• Choosing specific issues will You may want to do some make the assignment more preliminary research to see manageable what kind of information is available.
Example: Your instructor assigned you the topic:Violence in sports.This topic is too broad. Think of specific issues youwant to write about: Media coverage of violence in sports Violence in a particular sport (baseball, hockey, etc.) Effect of violence in sports on young players.
You decide your topic will be RealityTelevision.Here are some areas of interest you couldexplore: Select a specific genre:crime, competition, social issues Audience participation in reality television Effects of reality television on culture
Having a tough time identifying issues?Here are some places to look for ideas: Review the textbook Consult an encyclopedia Look at current newspapers, magazines, journals or websites Talk to your librarian
Focus your topic A good topic is broad enough to find information, but narrow enough to fit in the assignment guidelines. What happens if my topic is too What happens if my topic is too broad? narrow? • Too much information • Not enough information • Not enough time to read all • Spend too much time trying your sources to track down sources • Too many issues to cover in one assignment • Paper will lack depth • Paper will lack depth How do I broaden my topic?How do I narrow my topic? Expand location or time periodFind focus by selecting issue of interest Consider related issuesChoose a time period or geographic Consult an encyclopedia to get alocation broader scope of topicConsult an encyclopedia to learn moreabout specific subject issues
Is this topic too broad, too narrow, or just right?• The role of the United States in the liberation of France in World War II. Too broad! To narrow this topic you could focus on a battle, a branch of the military, foreign policy, etc. It is not easy to select a topic that is “just right.” Keep in mind – your topic may change as you do your research.
EXAMPLE: Your topic is Immigration to the UnitedStates. This subject is too broad, you will find too muchinformation.Find a focus by: Choosing a place of origin or time period: Irish immigration in the 19th century. Select a specific issue or effect: Cultural effects of Irish immigration in Chicago. Select a current problem with immigration policy.
EXAMPLE: Your topic is effects of televisionviolence on children from single parent homes inChicago. This topic is too narrow. Rather thancovering many aspects at the same time, broadenthe topic to be less specific: - Effects of television violence on children insingle parent homes.Or consider related issues: - Television violence in children’s programs - The role of television in single parent homes
Identifying key concepts & search terms• Identifying key concepts of your topic makes researching more manageable and leads you to specific subject terms, keywords, and synonyms that you can use in your search.• A research topic usually has more than one key concept. These are underlying ideas that you will discuss in your paper.
Select the keywords for this topic:The consequences of oil spills on marine life in the United States. a) consequences, oil spills b) consequences, oil spills, marine life, United States c) marine life, oil spills d) marine life, oil spills, United StatesANSWER: D – marine life, oil spills and United States All three key concepts are identified. The term “consequences” is not significant.
EXAMPLE: Your topic is the effects of media coverage and opinion pollsduring election campaigns. There are 3 main concepts in this topic: - Media Coverage - Opinion Polls - Election Campaigns For each concept identify keywords and synonyms: Media Coverage: mass media, television, newspapers, etc. Opinion Polls: surveys, polls, election forecasting Election Campaigns: political campaigns, political parties, debates
Writing a research questionWriting a research question or thesis statement helps you further define whattype of information you will need for your assignment. What is a research question? What is a thesis statement?• A research question • A thesis statement guides your search. indicates your position on• It should: an issue that you will • State your main concept defend in your paper. • Be debatable and neutral • It should: • Be clear and specific • Take a stance • Outline the purpose of the assignment • Be clear, specific, and well- written
Examples: Does education in prisons play a role in reducing recidivism? Should additional regulations be placed on genetically modified foods?
Think of your thesis statement as one possible answer toyour research question.Examples: Educational opportunities for inmates reduce recidivism. U.S. should not regulate genetically modified food industry, as long as products are identified.
Which do I write? Depends on the assignment, ask yourinstructor. Writing both can be helpful to guideyour research.
SummaryDefining a topic is more than just knowing what you want to write about.• Remember to: • Focus your topic sufficiently, not too broad or too narrow • Identify key concepts to prepare as you begin your research • Write a specific research question or thesis statement that you will attempt to answer or defend when gathering information and writing your paper.