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ART: Choosing a topic

An introduction to research for University of Redlands students

Learning objective

  • Write a research topic statement.

Question for consideration

  • How do you know when you have found a topic you want to research?

Identifying a research problem

As mentioned earlier, sometimes you will be assigned a specific research topic, while other times you will need to choose your own topic.

In upper division undergraduate or graduate classes, you increasingly take on responsibility for identifying and addressing problems within your discipline through original research.

In creative disciplines, you may be relying on your own ideas and inspiration from the start, but your engagement with others' ideas and the type of creative problem you tackle may become more complex as you progress through your major.

Academic researchers have spent their careers getting to know the problems in their discipline, and they have networks of trusted colleagues they can turn to for advice, encouragement, and constructive criticism as they develop their ideas. But how can you find a good research topic as a student - particularly if it's on a subject you are just learning about for the first time?

Professors Wayne Booth, Gregory Coloumb and Joseph Williams offered ideas in their book The Craft of Research. Here are two excerpts from that book that offer good advice for finding a research topic and framing it as a problem.

The professors also shared this helpful "elevator speech" exercise you can use to set your research ideas down on paper for the first time:

This exercise can help you through the vulnerable initial stage of shaping your initial interest - what inspired your curiosity in a subject - into a concrete topic. In the next section of this guide, I'll show you how to refine your topic into a focused research question.

Activity: Stating your topic

Write your research topic according to the formula:

I am studying             topic              

Because I want to find out      question         

To help readers understand:                 significance                    

Key point

  • An effective research topic presents a clear problem with meaningful implications for broader understanding.