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Human Needs and Global Resources

Find Your Topic

1. Note subjects that interest you. Being engaged in the research makes a more enjoyable process for you, and often results in better work. If no topic comes to mind, browsing sociology journals may help. It can also help to ask the following questions:

  • What have you found interesting about class discussions?
  • Has there been a class reading that you have especially liked?
  • Is there anything in class that you are curious about?

2. Note keywords that will help you search for sources on that topic. Don't worry about getting the right terminology at first. Just use what you can think of as a starting point.

3. Browse sources. A helpful starting place can be reference material. It provides background information, subject terms/keywords, and links to other sources and key authors.

Finding Your Topic

One of the most important steps in preparing for a successful paper or project is finding a good topic. Asking "how" or "why" questions about things you have seen or experienced can help lead you to a good research topic.

A good topic will be:

  • Clear
  • Focused
  • Appropriately Complex

Prior to starting your process, you may want to scan sources like The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal to see if there are current topics that may spark your curiosity. 

Here are some suggestions that can help you arrive at a good topic and lead to a successful paper or project. 

Strategies for Narrowing the Topic

  • Aspect. Choose one lens through which to view the research question, or look at just one facet of it [e.g., rather than studying the role of food in South Asian religious rituals, study the role of food in Hindu ceremonies]

  • Components. Determine if your initial unit of analysis can be broken into smaller parts, which can then be analyzed more precisely [e.g., a study of tobacco use among adolescents can focus on just chewing tobacco or, rather than adolescents in general, focus on female adolescents in a certain age range who use tobacco].

  • Methodology.  The way you gather information can reduce the domain of analysis needed to address the research question [e.g., a single case study can be designed to generate data that does not require as extensive an explanation as multiple cases].

  • Place. Generally, the smaller the geographic unit of analysis, the more narrow the focus [e.g., rather than study trade relations in West Africa, study trade relations between Niger and Cameroon as a case study that helps explain issues in the region].

  • Relationship. Ask yourself how do two or more perspectives or variables relate to one another. Designing a study around relationships between specific variables can help narrow the scope [e.g., compare/contrast, cause/effect, group/individual, male/female, contemporary/historical]

  • Time. The shorter the time period of the study, the more narrow the focus.

  • Type. Focus your topic in terms of a specific type or class of people, places, or phenomena. 

  • Combine two or more of the above.