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Forming a Topic
Topic forming is one of the hardest parts of writing a research paper. Here are some ways to narrow your thinking into 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?
- 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 you decide on your topic, then it is 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. A good research problem must be something you are actually capable of investigating. Aim for the middle ground-- the topic is narrow enough that you can draw off of prior research 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.
Narrowing & Expanding Your Topic
Once you have your research problem formed, break it down into 2-3 fundamental ideas or keywords.
Form a Research Plan
Think about your problem and 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 broad information to help situate your readers with your ideas.
If you are unfamiliar with your topic, research broadly to gain understanding before exploring specific research. Background research involves looking up key ideas in secondary sources, like encyclopedias, textbooks, or other reference type material. Once you familiarize yourself with your topic, 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:
Credo Reference This link opens in a new window
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.
Step 1: Download the app from Zotero.org.
Step 2: Add the Zotero Connector to your preferred web browser.
Step 3: Register for a Zotero account.
Step 4: Adjust preferences settings in the app.