Remember that choosing your topic isn't something you do before you start your research. Choosing a topic is research. So how do you choose a topic worth researching? Try working through the following steps:
Background research is an essential component of the research process. It helps to contextualize your work and gives you a basic understanding of the issues surrounding a particular topic. This is important because it will help you identify aspects of a topic that can turn into some interesting ideas, which will then lead to a solid research question.
UNC Libraries provides access to great tools for background research. You can search hundreds of encyclopedias through the library reference databases. Here are a few of our favorite databases for background research:
Wikipedia can be an excellent source for background information. Be sure not to cite Wikipedia! Rather, use the links in the References section at the bottom of the Wikipedia page to investigate the sources referenced in the article.
The findings from your background research can help you refine your topic and develop a research question. A good research question is narrow and focused on a specific issue or area related to a topic.
To refine your topic, think about why you chose the topic, what you've learned about it so far, and what you still want to know. You might want to do some free writing on your topic.
Consider the following questions:
Try this fill-in-the-blank exercise:
I want to research _________________ (who or what)
and _________________ (who or what)
in _________________ (where)
during _____________________ (when)
because ____________________ (why).
Here's our example:
I want to research prison nursery programs and incarcerated mothers, in American prisons, during the last 20 years, because I want to understand how these programs impact the mental health of incarcerated postpartum mothers.