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MSBC-611: Research Methods

This course will introduce students to qualitative and quantitative methods of research. In this course, students will examine foundational principles of research and will acquire some practical research skills. By becoming familiar with the research proc

Developing a Topic into a Research Question

1. Select a topic: Choose something that's interesting to you! What are you curious about? What have you read recently that sparked your interest? Has your personal experience informed your research interests? 

2. Develop research questions: These should be open-ended questions that communicate main ideas and issues that you would like to explore in your paper. A good research question is one that cannot be answered with a yes or a no. Use terms like why, how, and in what ways


  • Causes, effects, and solutions
  • Who, What, When, Where, Why/How
  • What specific issues or aspects do I want to investigate? 
  • What academic disciplines are involved in doing research on these issues?

Try narrowing your topic into a research question using University of Guelph Library's Four Steps to Narrow Your Research Topic

3. Generate keywords: Identify key concepts and terms in your research questions. Write down as many words, phrases, related terms, and synonyms you can think of. Use these key terms to start your research. You may find better keywords as you search. Look at subject terms and key phrases in titles and abstracts. 

4. Write your thesis statementA thesis presents the central argument of your research paper and provides a concise summary of your main ideas. 40% of your research is grounded with a solid thesis statement.

Topic Delegated by Instructor

1. Identify concepts and terms that make up the topic statement. For example, your instructor wants the class to focus on the following research problem: “Is the European Union becoming a credible security actor with the ability to contribute to confronting global terrorism? The main concepts are: European Union, global terrorism, credibility [hint: focus on identifying proper nouns, nouns or noun phrases, and action verbs in the assignment description].

2. Review related literature to help refine how you will approach focusing on the topic and finding a way to analyze it. You can begin by doing any or all of the following: reading through background information from materials listed in your course syllabus; searching the Spalding University Library Catalog to find a recent book on the topic and, if appropriate, more specialized works about the topic; conducting a preliminary review of the research literature using multidisciplinary library databases such as Business Source Premier, Small Business Reference Center, or subject-specific databases. Use the main concept terms you developed in Step 1 to retrieve relevant articles. Don’t be surprised if you need to do this several times before you finalize how to approach writing about the topic.

TIP #1: Always review the references cited by the authors in footnotes, endnotes, or a bibliography to help locate additional research on the topic. However, if you’re having trouble at this point locating related research literature, ask a librarian for help!

TIP #2:  If you find an article from a journal that's particularly helpful, put quotes around the title of the article and paste it into Google Scholar. If the article record appears, look for a "cited by" reference followed by a number. TThis is a strategy for looking forward into the literature for related research studies.

3. Look for sources that can help broaden, modify, or strengthen your initial thoughts and arguments [for example, if you decide to argue that the European Union is ill prepared to take on responsibilities for broader global security because of the debt crisis in many EU countries, then focus on identifying sources that support as well as refute this position].

There are least four appropriate roles your related literature plays in helping you formulate how to begin your analysis:

  • Sources of criticism -- Use a source is to describe the counter-argument, provide evidence from your review of the literature as to why the prevailing argument is unsatisfactory, and to discuss how your own view is more appropriate based upon your interpretation of the evidence.
  • Sources of new ideas -- It is certainly acceptable [and often encouraged] to read the literature and extend, modify, and refine your own position in light of the ideas proposed by others. Remember cite your sources.
  • Sources for historical context -- This can help to demonstrate familiarity with developments in relevant scholarship about your topic, provide a means of comparing historical versus contemporary issues and events, and identifying key people, places, and things that had an important role related to the research problem.
  • Sources of interdisciplinary insight -- An advantage of using databases like Academic Source Complete to begin exploring your topic is that it covers publications from a variety of different disciplines. If the topic concerns immigration reform, for example, ask yourself, how do studies from business journals found by searching Academic Source Complete vary in their analysis from those in law journals. 

TIP: Remember to keep careful notes at every stage or utilize a citation management system like Zotero or CiteULike. You may think you'll remember what you have searched and where you found things, but it’s easy to forget or get confused.

4. Prepare a detailed outline for your paper that lays the foundation for a more in-depth and focused review of relevant research literature. How will you know you haven't done an effective job of synthesizing and thinking about the results of our initial search for related literature? A good indication is that you start composing your paper outline and gaps appear in how you want to approach the study. 

Courtesy: Robert V. Labaree, University of Southern California Libraries

Choosing a Topic from a List

  1. Choose a topic that you find interesting in some way. Perhaps it is controversial and that you have a strong opinion about, or has some personal meaning for you. 
  2. Once you’ve settled on a topic of interest from the list, follow Steps 1 - 4 listed above to further develop it into a research paper.

You've reviewed related literature to help refine how you will approach a topic, but discover that the topic isn’t all that interesting? Choose another from the list. Just don’t wait too long to make a switch and be sure to consult with your professor first.

Courtesy: Robert V. Labaree, University of Southern California Libraries

Choosing Your Own Topic

1. Ask yourself the question, "What do I want to know?" Treat an open-ended assignment as an opportunity to learn about something that's new or exciting to you. See Brainstorming section.

2. If you lack ideas, or wish to gain focus, try some or all of the following strategies:

  • Review your course readings, particularly the suggested readings, for topic ideas. Don't just review what you've already read but jump ahead in the syllabus to readings that have not been covered yet.
  • Search the Spalding University Library Catalog for a good, recent introductory book and, if appropriate, more specialized works related to the discipline area of the course.
  • Browse through some current journals in your subject discipline. Even if most of the articles are not relevant, you can skim through the contents quickly. See Finding Journal Articles tab about the core journals within your subject discipline.
  • Think about essays you have written for past classes and other coursework you have taken or academic lectures and programs you have attended. Thinking back, what most interested you? What would you like to know more about?
  • Search online media sources to see if your idea has been covered in the news. Use this coverage to refine your idea into something that you'd like to investigate further but in a more deliberate, scholarly way based on a particular problem that needs to be researched.

3. Narrow, broaden, or increase the timeliness of your idea so you can write it out as a research problem.

4. Once you are comfortable with having turned your idea into a research problem, follow Steps 1 - 4 to further develop it into a research paper.

Courtesy: Robert V. Labaree, University of Southern California Libraries


Alderman, Jim. "Choosing a Research Topic." Beginning Library and Information Systems Strategies. Paper 17. Jacksonville, FL: University of North Florida Digital Commons, 2014; Alvesson, Mats and Jörgen Sandberg. Constructing Research Questions: Doing Interesting Research. London: Sage, 2013; Chapter 2: Choosing a Research Topic. Adrian R. Eley.Becoming a Successful Early Career Researcher. New York: Routledge, 2012; Answering the Question. Academic Skills Centre. University of Canberra; Brainstorming. Department of English Writing Guide. George Mason University; Brainstorming. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Chapter 1: Research and the Research Problem. Nicholas Walliman.Your Research Project: Designing and Planning Your Work. 3rd edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2011; Choosing a Topic. The Writing Lab and The OWL. Purdue University;  Coming Up With Your Topic. Institute for Writing Rhetoric. Dartmouth College; How To Write a Thesis Statement. Writing Tutorial Services, Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. Indiana University; Identify Your Question. Start Your Research. University Library, University of California, Santa Cruz; The Process of Writing a Research Paper. Department of History. Trent University; Trochim, William M.K. Problem Formulation. Research Methods Knowledge Base. 2006.