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:
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.
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.
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:
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.