Choosing, or even just thinking of, research paper ideas can be difficult.
There are two important parts to choosing a research paper idea.
The first is, understanding, what makes a good idea for the topic of your research paper and the second is about how to actually choose the idea.
While a good student or researcher should be able to write a research paper about any topic they want to; they should choose the right topic as this will make it easier. Pick a topic that interests you and you can work on.
You’ll be working about this topic for a long time. The greater your interest in a topic the easier you’ll find it to go and do the work when things aren’t going well. And no matter how clever you are or how hard you work some things just won’t go right. When you’ve to go and tidy up after a failed experiment and find another one to try it’ll be much easier if you’re passionate about the topic.
Also try to plan experiments you’ll enjoy doing. If you like lab work, find a topic where you can work in a lab or if you like field work, find a topic that’ll let you do that. In relation to this make sure that your department has the suitable facilities to do the work that you want to.
Be realistic about your topic.
Even if the topic really interests you it might not be suitable. For example field work often involves travelling. This can be difficult and or expensive if you don’t have access to a car. You might also need a basic level of fitness for much field work, if you’ve to walk a long way to find your experimental sites.
Also think about time and resources when picking research paper ideas. If you don’t have the time and or the resources to do your brilliant idea, about the topic that interests you, it’s not a good idea, it’s a bad idea.
You don’t have to do it all yourself.
Often departments will have a list of topics suggested by supervisors, go and talk to them about the topic. If you want, take a suggestion for a modification and be ready to explain why the modification will be good. A supervisor might not want to change the topic (it’ll often be linked to ongoing research in their lab) but it’ll show you can think and want to be involved fully.
Even if you’re able to take your own fully formed idea to a supervisor; be willing to accept their help and changes. They’ve got a lot of experience and will often be able to see problems that you might not.
Ask for help if you need it. Your supervisor, department and support staff are there to offer advice and help. They won’t do the work for you but will do their best to make sure you’ve everything you need to succeed.
Now you know what a good topic is you just need to think of one, unless you decide to pick a topic from the list your department issues (which is a perfectly good choice to make).
This might seem like a daunting task to you now, but your choices of topic have already been significantly limited by your area of study and subject of the class your taking. If you’re a biologist don’t try to write a research paper about a physics topic.
The first thing to do is read the course syllabus carefully and see exactly what your teachers want from you. Your topic will be linked to the subject of the class.
Once you know the subject or subjects that are open for you to pick your research paper idea from you need to start to brainstorm. There are several methods of brainstorming you could use but the most useful in this situation would be freewriting or clustering.
In freewriting you just write down anything you can think of related to your topic. Don’t judge the ideas at the moment just write them down. When you’ve finished you can go back and sort through your ideas and possibly use some of them as starting points for new freewriting sessions, until you’ve got a suitable topic.
In clustering you write the main subject in the centre of a piece of paper and then write all your other ideas around it and link each idea to the main point and each other by lines to form clusters of related ideas. You can then think of words linked to the original word or any of the new words you’ve added to the piece of paper.
Once you’ve got all your ideas you need to develop your topic from them. Take your time over this; think of several different versions of the topic. Leave it for a day and look again. Discuss it with your supervisor. Don’t be too rushed when making this decision.
If you do all of this you should be able to choose a good research paper idea.
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By Jolyon Dodgson, copyright © 2011-2017.
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