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Choose Your Topic

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: 

  1. Start by considering what interests you.Concept map of topics related to solar energy.
    • Maybe it's something from class, a current issue in the news, or something you ran across in your social media feeds. Make a list of anything that sparks your interests. 
  2. Review your list and decide what topic or issue you'd like to know more about.
    • Consider your assignment prompt--what topic is both interesting to you and fits the requirements of your assignment?
  3. Brainstorm what you already know about this topic.
    • Consider all the different aspects of the issue. Try making a concept map like this example for solar energy.
  4. Stay open to change!
    • Research topics tend to change as you learn more about them. That's OK! It's all part of the research process. Be open to your initial topic evolving, particularly as you begin to find background information.

Explore Your Topic

Why should I do background research?Explore

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.

How do I do background research?

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:

What about Wikipedia?

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.

Develop Your Research Question

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:

  • Did you learn something particularly intriguing in your background research?
  • Is there a specific subset of topics within your larger research topic?
  • Are there unanswered questions about this subject?
  • Can you focus on a specific geographic region or time period?
  • Are there groups of people that are impacted by this issue?

Try this fill-in-the-blank exercise:

Topic: I am working on _____________________.

Question: Because I want to find out _____________________.

Significance: So that I can help others understand ____________________.

Here's our example:

Topic: I am working on prison nursery programs.

Question: Because I want to find out the psychological impact these programs have on incarcerated mothers.

Significance: So that I can help others understand the mental health concerns of incarcerated postpartum mothers.

Once we have the blanks filled out, we can develop a research question based on the responses:

How do prison nursery programs impact the mental health of incarcerated postpartum mothers?