Identifying A Research Area of Interest

Key Tasks

  • Reading to become familiar with what is already known about your topic area
  • Narrowing your topic and developing specific research questions
  • Identifying a working hypothesis to investigate

Background reading

Your job as a thesis student is to

  • Become an expert on your topic
  • Extend knowledge within that field in some novel or new way

To do this you will need to

  • Read a great deal before you can narrow your topic
  • Learn about the most important, frequently cited works on your topic
  • Become familiar with the most current work on your topic

Important points while reading

  • Record the complete bibliography for each source
  • Take some key notes about what is in each source
  • Use computer programs such as RefWorks and EndNote that help do this efficiently and make formatting your bibliography or reference list simpler
  • To avoid inadvertent plagiarism, make direct quotations obvious in your notes
  • You should also do any background reading necessary for understanding your subject area even if it isn’t directly related to your topic. (i.e. if your thesis is on how a modern author was influenced by Jane Austen, you should do some reading on Austen)

Choosing a topic

The goal is to go from a broad topic area to a specific research question or questions.

  • Choose something you are genuinely interested in studying
  • Avoid picking a topic just because it seems simple to do
  • Try starting with something that caught your interest in one of your classes

Moving from a topic area to a research question

  • Think about things that made you ask more questions
  • Is there one key question that you would like to answer?

Your Research Advisor can help you to decide if your topic is likely to work out, and whether it will be possible to find a Thesis Director who is also interested in your topic.