A general topic is too broad to handle the rigors of research design and instrumentation. There are several quick steps that can help you narrow your research topic to a manageable study.
- Your research exists in an ecosystem, the ecosystem of your field. The more specific you make your topic, the more direct effect your work can have on your field. So how do you know if your research topic is too large? There are a few exercises that can help you find out. The first is a simple library search of your topic. Here, we are using Google Scholar for a very cursory search. Google Scholar is a great tool for an overview of your topic, but it does not allow for the deep focus you will find with a library search.
If you are with an educational institution, most libraries have extensive access to research journals as well as tutorials on how to best use their search index. If you are doing research through an organization without library access, many local libraries are networked with research arms as well and a library card will grant you access to a significant amount of material. So let's start with an example. If you search poverty and education, you'll find thousands of scholarly articles from a number of perspectives, political, pedagogical, socioeconomic and across various methodologies.
A topic of the effect of childhood poverty on higher education graduation rates will still produce a large number of results, but we're now looking at hundreds rather than thousands. There's also a writing exercise. See what happens when you try to write an elevator pitch of your research topic. Make it a 30-second paragraph on the significance of the research problem and the questions your research will address. A paragraph on Poverty in education can go in a number of directions. You'll need to choose which direction to go.
Such a general topic means you won't be able to say much more than there is a negative relationship between poverty and educational achievement, my research looks to fix this. That's fine for thinking about research but it can't support the rigor of a research study. On paper it will look very general and vague because there's a research problem, but not a research question to address. Now, when you narrow your focus specifically to graduation rates in postsecondary education for students who grow up impoverished, you've added unique details to the paragraph.
These details not only shape the data you'll collect, but also firmly address the significance of the problem with a direct line of action. Graduation rates and postsecondary education provide a foundation for your research problem and research question. There are some key terms to use when narrowing your research topic. You don't need to use these as a checklist to make sure all criteria have been met, instead take one or two and ask how your research problem addresses that particular term. Using our topic of poverty in education, let's explore each one.
First, an aspect asks us to incorporate a perspective for viewing the research problem. Here, we see poverty in education as a general problem while the effect of poverty on higher education graduation rates creates a more specific vantage point to conduct the research. Next, components focus on the size of the variables. Basically, is the variable granular enough? Or can it be broken down into smaller parts for more precise analysis? For instance, how does number of years living in poverty impact graduation rates? Methodology is also a significant part of the research process, but for the sake of our research topic, we should think about it as how we gather information.
There are many ways to gather information on poverty in education and many sources. Addressing the relationship of childhood poverty and graduation rates provides the specifics and the needed data and the way to gather the data. Place is a geographic term and often overlooked when we think about research aspects. Poverty in education is very different in the United States than it is in India. It's also very different in states with higher poverty rates. Next, relationship of variables can also help us find unique opportunities for a research study.
Are there relationships between variables to further our study? We can compare and contrast the effect of poverty on higher education graduation rates based on geography or we can do a longitudinal study and see modern effects of poverty on higher education versus historical data. We could also see if there's a difference along gender lines. And last, time periods can provide a start and end time to the study to help constrict data. The effects of childhood poverty on graduation rates between 2006 and 2016 limits the data pulled and also provides social and economic contexts to the study.
The type of topic you choose can help you find the niche you wish to fill in your field. Poverty in education can focus on long-term effects such as graduating from college, but it could also be a study of a specific intervention and its results or enrollment in sports or extracurricular activities. If you can directly show what your research problem provides through these terms, you're ready to move further into developing your research study.
- Reviewing the types of research design
- Generalizing your research
- Writing research questions
- Creating research objectives
- Developing a literature review
- Anonymity and confidentiality in research studies
- Narrowing your idea to a research topic
- Developing a problem statement
- Outlining your research proposal
- Presenting your data in written form and numeric form
- Writing your abstract and final summary