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Forming a Topic
Topic forming can be one of the hardest parts of writing a research paper. Below are some suggestions on ways in which you can help narrow down your thinking to form a specific research problem:
- Start with what interests you. Is there a particular topic in one of your previous classes that sparked your interest that you would like to take the time to investigate further? Choosing a topic that you are interested in and invested in will help make the research process exciting.
- Identify potential controversial issues within your area of interest. Often times controversial issues present the opportunity for further research that might present a solution to the issue.
- Review the literature on the area of interest to see what has already been published on this topic. Investigating what's out there often prompts ideas for how you might expand on a topic.
Identify the Research Problem
Once your topic is decided on it is then time to identify the research problem. This will act as the road map as you begin your research. Your textbook Research Methods in Physical Activity offers a great list by researcher Dr. C. H. McCloy (p. 28) on determining the quality and feasibility of the research problem:
- Is the problem within the realm of research?
- Does it interest you?
- Does is possess utility?
- Is it worthwhile?
- Is it feasible?
- Is it timely?
- Can you attack the problem without prejudice?
- Are you prepared in the techniques to address the problem?
Most of the suggestions in this list have to do with the scope and applicability of the research problem To form a good research problem it must be within the scope of what you are actually capable of investigating. This means identifying a topic that is neither too broad that it would be overwhelming to research nor too narrow that not enough research exists to be useful. Aim for the middle ground, the topic is narrow enough that you can draw off of research that has been done before, but can ultimately contribute something new.
Reference for list above: Thomas, J.R., Nelson, J. K., Silverman, S. J. (2011). "Introduction to Research in Physical Activity." Research methods in physical activity. p. 28.
Once you have your research problem formed, break it down into its fundamental ideas or keywords. Usually 2-3 keywords is a good place to begin thinking about how you will research for this topic.
Form a Research Plan
Think about your problem and spend a few minutes thinking about the kinds of research you will need to look for to help answer your question. Is there a term you need to provide a definition of to help your reader understand your argument? Do you need to setup the context of your research by offering an explanation of historical events, rules/regulations, explanations of issues, etc. If yes, you might start with background research, looking for high level information to help situate your readers with your ideas.
If you are unfamiliar with your topic begin by researching broadly in order to gain a better understanding of the topic. Often background research involves looking up key ideas in encyclopedias, textbooks, or other reference type material. These sources are called secondary sources and present a summary of the research out there. Once you familiarize yourself with your topic you can then move on to more specific research such as case studies.
Jenks Library has a number of online background research resources that you might use to get started:
Find quick facts and background information in over 600 reference sources. Then continue searching in the NOBLE catalog and other electronic resources right from the Credo search screen.
Science Daily is an online publication that provides information on the latest research news from different disciplines. Check out their Sports page to see what's current in sports research.
Topic Brainstorming Suggestions
Browse Popular Magazines & Newspapers
Stories about sports, recreation, or wellness appear all the time in magazines such as Time, Forbes, or Science News. Browse through some recent issues of these magazines for articles that catch your eye. Starting with popular source articles can be a great jumping off place for further research.
Explore the Topic Finder feature in the Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine database. This tool allows you to search basic keywords such as "football helmets" and see what other terms are heavily associated with it. This way you may discover how your topic links to other areas of research.
Zotero Reference Management Tool
A useful strategy for research is to identify an organization method that works for you as you gather your research. Keeping yourself organized as a research will help you better make connections between sources and help further your ideas. One tool you can use to help keep yourself organized is Zotero. Zotero is a reference management software that helps you store, organize, and cite information.
The Zotero tool is available for Mac, Windows, and Linux users. You can choose to download "Zotero for Firefox" which will link with your Firefox browser or download the "Zotero Standalone" option which will allow you to use the web browser of your choice. If you are using the Standalone client, first download Zotero and then add the appropriate browser extension for your prefered web browser.
Download the Zotero Client for either Firefox or the Standalone Client for the web browser of your choice. Once you have download the client, you can then add extensions for your preferred web browser and Word or LibreOffice.