A research topic is a subject that you are interested in when conducting a study. A well-defined research topic is an essential starting point for every project.
You can choose a topic based on various types of information, experiences or requirements. Such sources may include issues:
- raised in the literature you have read or faced in your practice
- of personal interest to you
- that are important in the field of your work
- presented by a funder who is looking to commission a project
The following steps can guide you to find a research topic (based on Harper & Thompson, 2011).
Step 1: Establish your overall area of interest. For example, let’s say your overall interest is exploring mental health among refugees. Write down the reasons for your interest.
Step 2: Explore the theme. Start by doing some introductory reading and exploration of the larger theme and find out what research has been done on this theme.
Step 3: Narrow your focus. You may start with two or three topics that interest you. For example, suicidal ideation among adolescents in refugee camps in Turkey, post-traumatic stress symptoms suffered by refugees living in transitional housing, or coping mechanisms among refugee mothers suffering from depression in Birmingham. Ask yourself:
- Will the topic sustain my interest over the months to come?
- Is there any existing literature within which I can locate my work?
- Is the topic one I can research within the time and resources available?
Step 4: You can further narrow the focus of your research interest by deciding on the research method you would like to use to collect your data. For example, if you have decided to investigate coping mechanisms among refugee mothers suffering from depression in Birmingham, you can choose a number of methods to collect relevant data:
- interviews with refugee mothers suffering from depression in Birmingham to understand their experience and coping mechanisms
- evaluation of the support provided across different services to these mothers suffering from depression in Birmingham to help them cope
- a literature-based study to explore the data related to different coping mechanisms in other refugee settings, and their applicability within the context of Birmingham
- interviews with families and community members to tease out the role of community in supporting refugee mothers suffering from depression in Birmingham
In sum: A well-defined topic is an essential starting point for every research project. Select a topic in which you are interested, one that is focused and can be addressed in an appropriate manner within the time and resource constraints of the project.
(Author: Nancy Tamimi)