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Focus Your Research Topic

  How Do I > Focus Your Research Topic

Choose a tentative broad topic based on the requirements of your assignment and your own interests.

--- What is the purpose of the assignment? Read it closely. What is it about? What are the requirements? If it's not clear, ask questions. Clarify.
--- Write down what you think your instructor wants you to learn from the assignment and what you want to take away from the experience.
--- Brainstorm ways to combine this with your own interests. For example, if you’re writing for a psychology class but your principal interest is marketing, think about ways to combine the two.

Quickly read up on the broad topic to find the issues and controversies.

--- Assume you know nothing. Keep an open mind. Use Wikipedia and Google. Use encyclopedias. (Encyclopedia Britannica Online is here.)

--- Skim rapidly looking for questions rather than just information.
--- Consult your textbooks, your class readings, your lecture notes, your classmates, and your professor.
--- What are the experts on the topic arguing about? How can you creatively contribute to that scholarly conversation?

(BTW: It is a misconception that the more information you find on a topic, the clearer things become. In the process of exploring your topic, you will find information that is sometimes contradictory, questionable or incompatible with your ideas. It takes time and persistence and to wade through this information and make sense of it. Don’t get bogged down in that at this point.)

Now choose your focus tactic.
For example, your broad topic is religion and the environment. Using this broad topic, narrow by:

--- geographic region (What environmental issues are most important to Japanese Buddhists? Why?)
--- culture (How does the environment fit into the Navajo world view?)
--- time frame (How have the most prominent environmental issues among conservative evangelical Christians changed in the last twenty years?)
--- discipline  (Do economic issues affect how various religious groups respond to environmental issues? Why? How do varying laws on the separation of church and state affect the activities of religious groups in various countries, vis-à-vis environmental issues?)
--- demographic group / example: age group, income group, or gender (In which religious groups are women taking the lead on environmental issues? Why?)
--- comparing two points on a scale / specific times, events, people, discoveries or works of literature (What environmental issues are most important to American Muslims vs. Muslims in Africa? Why?

Remember that a topic will be more difficult to research if it is:
  --- Very locally confined - Topics this specific may only be covered in local newspapers, if at all!
  --- Very recent  - If a topic is of very recent occurance, books and scholarly journal articles will not be available, but newspaper and magazine articles will.
  --- Broadly interdisciplinary - You could be overwhelmed with superficial information.
  --- Too "popular" - You may not find scholarly material on sports figures, current music, or current rap stars.

If you have any uncertainties about the focus of your topic, discuss it with your professor.

--- How to Generate Original Ideas--Even as an Emergent Scholar
--- Here's an example of a brainstorming diagram.
-- Here's another example.
--- An example of a brainstorming worksheet is here.

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