-“How do I find a research topic when I have no ideas?”
- “I am trying to identify a research project, where should I start?”
-“How do I know which of my research ideas is the best adapted for a research assignment?”
These are questions I am often asked by students in the modules assessed by autonomous research projects that I teach at the London School of Economics and Political Science. In this blog, post I have put together for you a three-step process to help you a find a research topic:
1. Starting points to identify a research topic
2. Criteria to help you select the most adapted research topic
3. One thing to keep in mind: research topics are not set in stone and they evolve over time
Starting points to identify a research topic
Take a step forward: Brainstorm using the three starting points above and list 3-5 potential research topics. For each of these options, address “the next step” identified (1. finding key words in the literature, 2. identifying a potential case, 3. pinpoint specific contributions/positioning).
At the end of this exercise, you should have 3-5 potential ideas for research topics in front of you in writing.
Criteria to refine and select your research topic
Evolving topic vs changing topic
Finally, it is important to consider that the topic you have chosen will likely not be exactly the same topic as the one you end up submitting. By this I mean that it is normal that your research project evolves throughout your research journey, which includes transforming/tweaking some aspects of your initial research topic. That research topics evolve is a process inherent to research; letting go of our previous ideas, perceptions and anticipations is an integral part of being a self-critical researcher!
That being said, transforming a research topic through research is different to changing a research topic all together. By changing topics, I mean that you have started working on one of the options selected through the criteria above, but a couple of months down the line you decide you want to work on another option. This is a different scenario. If this is something you consider doing, you need to ask yourself the reasons behind this desire (as some might be strategic and relevant but many are ... not). For example, if you realise that you didn’t anticipate a feasibility issue, it might be wiser to reorient the research question instead of changing the topic altogether. Indeed, if you have a deadline, time is precious and it might be risky to completely change a project after a certain point.