Choosing a Research Topic
Over the course you will be tasked with completing the first half of a research proposal. From developing a research topic of your own, to narrowing the topic down into questions worthy of studying, and developing a method to answer that question. We will take this slow, breaking each part down so that not only are we able to engage with the material in challenging and unique ways, but so that we don’t get overwhelmed in the process. The goal for this first assignment is to get that ball rolling, to begin thinking of topics that we want to devote the next 10 weeks towards. This is not about having the perfect topic, but about learning how this process works. I say this to ease our concerns over perfection. Research requires edits, drafts, and constant re-thinking of our topics, questions, and hypothesis. As such, think of this as a learning experience in what is required of people who set out to answer questions about this complex world.
This is our first step towards that goal: choosing a research topic.
In our module, I have attached a short cheat sheet of sorts that details what this narrowing of a topic can look like, and how that can be rolled into our next goal, the research question. First, let us address the narrowing of a topic and the development of a topic of interest. Choosing a topic is both the easiest and most challenging aspect of this project. Everything else moves in a simple direction, forward.
The sole concern of choosing a research topic is finding something that interests you. As Babbie articulates in Ch. 4: “Science is dedicated to ‘finding out’” (p. 89). This is our task today, what do you want to find out. Every single one of us is here to address questions like these, and there is no better place to start than with something that interests you. There are a number of ways to develop a topic out of our interests, and you may already have a specific topic that you are interested in – and that’s great! Either way, there are certain steps that can be taken to help formulate your topic into a directed research proposal.
1. The first step in developing a research topic is to brainstorm for ideas. This starts by looking through the news, perhaps thinking about other classes that you are enrolled in and what research they are asking you to accomplish; or think about the discussions you are having with your friends or family about what’s happening in the world at the moment, or more generally, do you have a topic that you are interested in learning more about? Perhaps there is an issue on campus that you would like to know more about, or a political opinion that you want to focus on? Once this moment of brainstorming is completed start writing down key words from the topics at hand that could form a more formal research topic. It can help if you focus on concepts that you are interested in (e.g. police violence, COVID-19, voting rights, inequality, etc.) and focus on the events, time, person or group, place that define these moments for you.
2. Next, to put it bluntly, do some research. Google, bing, duckduckgo, key words connected to your topic, or simply type in the larger topic that you are interested in. Check out appropriate sources that provide general background information. This will be key in developing your topic and helping you move forward. The goal here is to take the broader topic, and narrow it down into something more manageable. Say your topic is of voting rights. What specifically are you interested in? A more specific topic would be felon disenfranchisement and its effects on voting. This would be an example of narrowing your topic. Another example could be on COVID-19, where a more specific research topic can be focused on understanding why people choose not to follow medical experts who recommend wearing masks. The goal here is to develop purpose out of your topic.
3. After completing background research, it’s important to make sure that your topic is manageable. Remember, the ultimate goal is to be able to actually research your topic. One way to help narrow this process down is through determining the best way to answer your question. In other words, what type of method would you want to employ? Look through the book, thinking through Babbie’s Ch. 4 (research design),
Ultimately a good topic will include:
· Something you are interested in
· Appropriate to the requirements for this assignment
· Able to be experimented on
For this assignment, you are tasked with explaining that topic and why you chose it. The point here is to communicate to the reader (me) why this topic is worthy of study. However, in this assignment you should limit your use of “I think,” “I feel,”—only using such “I” statements when specifically asked for.
In 1-paragraph (at minimum), address the following questions, in full-sentence and paragraph form.
· What is the problem you wish to explore/the question you wish answered?
· What is your expected unit of analysis
· Why does this topic interest you?
· Why does this topic matter for life in your area?
· Why is this topic relevant to sociology/criminology in general?
My topic police brutality
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