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Checklist for Selecting or Refining a Topic
1) SELECT Topic Ideas
- If for a class assignment,
- Read the assignment instruction carefully:
- Requirements (scope, # of references, nature of the sources, publication style such as APA, etc.)
- Focus (theories, empirical findings, methodologies, etc.)
- Examine textbooks
- To find keywords for your topic, consult Indexes at the end of the books
- Examine journal articles (class readings)
- Browse the reference list of an article and chain the citations
- Consider personal interests
- If you know the top scholarly journals in your field, skim titles and abstracts of the latest issues of the journals
- Scholarly journals are also called academic, peer-reviewed, or refereed journals
- Compare these examples:
- Browse "Annual Reviews" publications in the field, if available
- Read theses or dissertations in the area of your interest
- From your department
- From other institutions
- Browse conference opportunities in your field. Read their "Call for Papers" or "Call for Proposals" to catch up hot topics in the field. E.g.,
- CFP List: An academic call for papers database in Humanities and Social Sciences
- NBER Project on Economic Dimensions of Personalized and Precision Medicine
- Check out research funding organizations in social sciences to find hot topics in the field. A list of the recent awards (or the funded research) is a good source to find out the hot topics in the field.
- Brainstorm a list of possible topics
After selecting a topic, if your assignment requires a working thesis, try to formulate a preliminary working thesis. This will serve as a roadmap to your search.
2) REFINE Topic Ideas
Once you conduct an initial search of the literature, you might want to refine your topic. Two common ways are:
- Narrow down the topic by adding delimitations or more keywords/concepts
- For a limited period of time (i.e. the past 10 years of literature only)
- E.g., Treisman, D. (2007). What have we learned about the causes of corruption from ten years of cross-national empirical research?. Annu. Rev. Polit. Sci., 10, 211-244.
- For a specific group only
"Adolescent Depression" --> "Depression among HIV-affected youth"
- Adding extra search terms /topics
"Voter turnout" --> "Negative campaign and voter turnout "
- Expand the topic by getting rid of the delimitations or using broader concepts
"Instructional effectiveness of games for teaching grammar" --> "Effectiveness of games for language teaching"
After refining your topic, revise a working thesis accordingly.