Research Topic for Paper : Here’s a way to select a research topic. I’ll use Anthropology as an example since I’m an Anthropologist, but the process works for any subject. Whenever I say “Anthropology” just replace it with “History,” or “Biology,” or whatever discipline you are interested in.
STEP 1: Find a General Research Topic
The first thing to do is to figure out what interests you. Your research topic should be something that you are interested in, otherwise, it will be boring and you won’t have a lot of motivation to finish the research. Which aspects of Anthropology interest you the most? For example, are you interested in food and nutrition? Or maybe education and literacy? Or something else? Take some time and figure out what interests you.
If you need help figuring out what you are interested in, then try going to a university library, and visiting the section where the Anthropology-related books are. Browse the books for a couple of hours, and see if you find anything interesting.
You could also browse through an introductory textbook on Anthropology. Typically, each chapter in an Anthropology textbook is about a different topic—for example, there’ll probably be a chapter on economics, a chapter on gender, a chapter on families and kinship, and so on.
Another way to browse topics to see what you are interested in is to use the Outline of Cultural Materials from the HRAF (Human Relations Area Files). This is a list of broad research topics in Anthropology and can be found online at this website: https://hraf.yale.edu/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Subjects-in-eHRAF.pdf
STEP 2: Do Background Research on the General Research Topic
So, now you should have determined what broad topic in Anthropology interests you. The second thing to do is to do some background research to get an overview of your topic. This will help you get a general understanding of your topic, and help you figure out what subtopics are in your general topic.
A good way to do this is to use an encyclopedia. You’ll need to go to a university library and find an Anthropology-related encyclopedia. If you don’t know where to look, just ask the librarian for help. You can also search for online Anthropology encyclopedias, but most of them require a subscription. See if a library near you has access to any online Anthropology-related encyclopedias.
There is a new open-access encyclopedia called the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Anthropology, which is online at Cambridge Encyclopedia of Anthropology. More and more topics are being added to this encyclopedia, and it might have some information on your topic.
Another great resource is the Anthropology section of the Oxford Bibliographies website: Anthropology – Oxford Bibliographies
You can also look at an introductory Anthropology textbook, and read the sections of the book that contain the topic you are interested in.
STEP 3: Narrow Down Your Topic into a Sub-Topic
So, now you know a little more about your topic of interest. The next step is to narrow your topic down to a subtopic. For example, say you are interested in health and illness. You did some background reading and decided that infectious diseases were an interesting subtopic to study.
Even though you have chosen a topic (health and illness) and narrowed it down (to infectious diseases), this is still way too big a topic– it needs to be narrowed down even further. For example, maybe just research one disease, so let’s say you pick influenza — the flu. Now you have a basic research topic, influenza.
Even though you narrowed things down to arrive at influenza, that is still too broad of a topic to research. Are you talking about influenza in a certain country? A certain city? Are you considering all ages? Just children? Or maybe the elderly? And what specifically about influenza are you interested in— how people decide to go to the doctor for treatment, or how people avoid the flu, if people get their flu shot, or what? There are so many things that fall under the topic of influenza. You need to narrow the topic down even further into a manageable research question.
One way to narrow down a topic is to consider it from different angles. For example, you can narrow a topic chronologically (by time) or geographically (by place). Using the influenza example, you could narrow it to a certain time frame, like the last flu season. Or you could narrow the topic by place, and only look at influenza in a certain city or country. Try to narrow down your topic into a more specific one.
STEP 4: Find Your Research Question
The first thing to do is to make a list of keywords relating to your research topic. Think about everything that you read about your topic and subtopic and come up with a list of keywords to use in searching. For example, you may want to search for the term “flu” along with the medical term “influenza.”
For each word on your list of keywords, try to come up with another word that means the same thing (a synonym) and add that to your list of keywords. For example, if one of your keywords is “flu shot,” make sure you also add “influenza vaccine,” because these are different words that mean the same thing.
The next thing to do is take your list of keywords and start doing some more library research. This time, you need to be looking for journal articles that match your research topic.
Access to a Database of Journal Articles
You’ll need access to a database of journal articles—ask your librarian if you don’t know how to find these kinds of databases in your library. Some examples of article databases are JSTOR and ProQuest, but there are many, many more! Then, start putting your keywords into the database’s search engine and see what you find.
You need to find out 2 things: 1) what other researchers have already studied about your topic, and 2) what further research still needs to be done. The journal articles you find will show you what research has already been done, and reading these may give you ideas for your own research question.
And, most journal articles will end with a section where the researcher suggests ideas for further research, so check articles carefully for this kind of information. After studying these journal articles, you should have a good idea of what research questions other researchers have studied, and what they suggest people research next. Use this information to come up with your own preliminary research question.
STEP 5: Refine Your Research Question
You also need to consider which theoretical approach you want to use. For example, studying influenza falls under the field of Medical Anthropology. Medical Anthropology has several ways to look at health and illness, which are called theoretical approaches.
Example of Research Question
One theoretical approach is the Epidemiological approach, which focuses on identifying risk factors for diseases. Another theoretical approach is the Interpretivist approach, which focuses on how people describe and respond to illness. A third approach, called Critical Medical Anthropology, focuses on how politics and economics impact health.
Using our influenza example, say you are interested in the Interpretivist approach, and you find a bunch of journal articles describing what people think about influenza, meaning people’s perceptions of that disease. And that seems interesting, and so you decide you want to study how people’s perceptions of influenza influence their behavior.
And let’s pretend that while there is a lot of research on this topic, no one seems to be studying the immigrants in big cities in the United States. These people may have different ideas about influenza, and that may affect their behavior in a way that affects their risk of getting the disease.
So, you finally decide a good working research question would be, “Perceptions of Influenza Among Immigrant Populations in a Large City in the USA.”
But which immigrants do you choose? Here are some things to consider. First, your background research should show you who other researchers chose, and explain why they chose that population. Second, your background research may show that studies have not been done on a certain population, so maybe you want to choose that one. Another thing to consider is where you live and if you are able to travel to do your research. If you want to study people in Uganda, but you don’t have enough money to travel, that may not be a good choice.
And which location do you choose? With our made-up influenza example, no one had considered the perceptions of immigrants in large cities in the USA. But you still have to choose a location–and say you live in or near Seattle in Washington state, where there is a large population of immigrants from other countries, and so you decide to choose that city.
But, immigrants in Seattle is still a huge group of very diverse people— it would be difficult to do research on all those different groups of people. So, you should probably narrow that population to something smaller. So, you do some research on immigrants in Seattle and find out that one of the top 5 immigrant groups there are from Ethiopia. You’ve always been interested in people from East Africa, and so you decide to choose Ethiopian immigrants as your population to study.
Find a Research Topic for Paper in 10 steps
- First choose a broader area
- Then narrow down the search
- Download possible research papers
- Use google scholar and Research gate
- Find research gap during literature review
- Develop a research design
- Check feasibility of the same
- Gather relevant data
- Conduct related tests
- Develop interpretations
So now, you finally have a research question: “Perceptions of Influenza Among Ethiopian Immigrants in Seattle, Washington.” As I mentioned before, this is just an example from Anthropology, but the same process can be used to find a research topic in any other discipline!