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SOCA: Sociology: Starting Your Research

Choose a Topic

Learn how to choose a topic, develop your focus, find background information, and select your search keywords.  

Why think about your topic?

Thinking critically about your topic before and as you begin researching can:

  • help you find a focus for your paper or project
  • help you determine what information you need to find
  • help you decide where to look for information

Choosing a Topic

When picking a topic, consider:

  • your professor's prompt and assignment instructions
  • picking something that interests you and that you want to learn more about
  • if you have opinions on current events, picking a current event to explore
  • a personal issue, problem or concern, since you might have some existing knowledge about it
  • if it's likely to have research about it   

Often, the initial topic or prompt you have will be too big in scope for the length of your paper or presentation. You will need to develop your topic further by finding a specific focus.

Developing Your Focus

To develop your topic and find your focus, do some brainstorming to break the topic into a smaller piece, by asking these questions:

  • Who? - age groups, cultures, gender
  • When? - time period (current or historical)
  • Where? - a geographic region (international, national, or local)
  • What? - causes, symptoms
  • Why? - value, importance

Example: The American Dream > Home Ownership and the Economy > Economic Conditions Preventing Home Ownership for Millennials in America

It might also help to think about:

  • what you already know about your topic
  • what you need to learn about your topic
  • what you intend to write about it

You might need to do some preliminary searching during this brainstorming to help you develop your focus. 

How to Develop a Good Research Topic

Watch the video below to learn more about how to choose and develop a topic for your research.

Attribution: Kansas State University Libraries. (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 US)

Preliminary Searching for Background Information

If you don't know a lot about your topic, doing some preliminary searching about it can help you find specific aspects and ideas to focus on throughout the rest of your research.

This is where Google and Wikipedia may help you gather ideas (but not information to include in your writing). 

Books, reference information, news articles, magazines, and credible websites might also help you at this point. Often the background information you find in these sources may be used in your writing. 

These searches may also help you find other keywords to use for more detailed information later on.

Expect to learn new things and make changes to your topic as a result of what you find. Your focus may change from what you thought it would be when you first chose your topic.