How to narrow down your research topic

September 17, 2017
Image courtesy of patrisyu at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of patrisyu at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

One of the things novice and emerging researchers can struggle with is learning how to narrow down their research topic. Here are some resources that I’ve personally collected and curated to help you tackle this complex element of developing your research project. At the time of writing this post, all the links worked and none of these resources had pop-up ads, paywalls or require any kind of payment. These are freely available and should be widely accessible by students in most areas.

Written resources:

USC Libraries Research Guide – Organizing your social sciences research paper: Narrowing a Topic Idea – http://libguides.usc.edu/writingguide/narrowtopic

USU: Ways to Narrow Down a Topic – http://ocw.usu.edu/English/intermediate-writing/english-2010/-2010/narrowing-topics-skinless_view.html

Thompson Rivers University: How to Narrow Your Research Topic – https://www.tru.ca/__shared/assets/How_to_Narrow_Down_Your_Research_Topic30237.pdf

BYU LibGuide: Step-by-Step Guide & Research Rescue: Finding and Narrowing your Topic – http://guides.lib.byu.edu/c.php?g=216340&p=1428396

Temple University: Narrowing Your Topic from Subject to Thesis (1-page worksheet) – https://www.temple.edu/writingctr/support-for-writers/documents/NarrowingYourTopicfromSubjecttoThesis-Worksheet.pdf

Starting a PhD: Choosing and Developing Your Research Topic – https://100thousandwords.wordpress.com/2010/10/18/starting-a-phd-%E2%80%93-choosing-and-developing-your-research-topic/

U Penn: Plain Talk About Your Dissertation Proposal – http://www.ling.upenn.edu/advice/green_proposal.html

You Tube videos:

Kansas State University Libraries: How to Develop a Good Research Topic – https://youtu.be/nXNztCLYgxc

M. Moilanen: Now to Narrow Down your Research Topic – https://youtu.be/EcYgNV_nQjk

Laurentian University: Narrowing Your Topic – https://youtu.be/JYYQTSXq6RI

Amanda Dinscore: Narrowing Your Topic – https://youtu.be/J1eVTf974R4

Steely Library NKU: Developing a Research Question – https://youtu.be/LWLYCYeCFak

Check out these related posts on this blog:

5 Websites to avoid referencing in your research papers  http://wp.me/pNAh3-1IA

12 Phrases to Avoid in Your Academic Research Papers http://wp.me/pNAh3-1JX

Why APA formatting matters http://wp.me/pNAh3-1Hc

How many sources do you need in a literature review? http://wp.me/pNAh3-1Hu

What’s the difference between a citation and a reference? http://wp.me/pNAh3-1F9

Why “as cited in” should be avoided in academic writing http://wp.me/pNAh3-1BH

10 Great writing resources for grad students – http://wp.me/pNAh3-1Bc

How to create a research paper outline: 5 great resources http://wp.me/pNAh3-1y6

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This blog has had over 1.6 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

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Developing a Work Plan for Your Thesis

September 11, 2017

Sarah Eaton blog technology researchIn one of the graduate level courses I teach, students learn to develop a proposal for their thesis. One of the elements we talk about has nothing at all to do with the content or format of the proposal (both of which are important). It is developing a work plan for the proposal. I tell my students that in turn, the proposal work plan can be expanded upon and adapted to develop a work plan for your thesis.

Elements to include in a work plan are:

A weekly schedule, preferably aligned with the dates of your term. For example, a work plan for a 12-week semester would start with the first week of classes and end with the final week of classes.

Concrete tasks to do each week. “Read” is not a concrete task; it is a vague one. “Download and read 5 peer-reviewed articles in my topic area” is a concrete task.

Build in time to do drafts of your work. Neither a thesis, nor a proposal can be written at the eleventh hour. Building in time to outline and draft the work is crucial.

Be realistic. If you have a major life event happening in the middle of the semester, develop your work plan around that event. (For example, don’t plan on doing a significant amount of work if you or your partner is having a baby in week seven of the semester.)

Here are some of my favourite resources that I recommend to my students:

http://juxi.net/studies/SpaceMaster/Thesis/workplan.pdf

http://www.ed.ac.uk/files/atoms/files//pdpfinal_web_march_2015.pdf

http://www.sciencemag.org/careers/2002/07/writing-research-plan

http://ebeit.mandela.ac.za/ebeit/media/Store/documents/Research%20Guidelines/TopicAndTitle/Example-of-Project-Plan-for-Research-Project.pdf

Some of these resources need to be adapted to fit a proposal, rather than an entire thesis. Their usefulness likes in helping you to conceptualize and develop your own work plan, customized to your project.

Learning how to manage your available time and knowing what you have to accomplish in a finite amount of time can help you chuck out your work into more manageable pieces. Having a week-by-week plan, that you construct yourself, can help you stay on track and meet your goals.

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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


Starting the School Year with Beginner’s Mind

September 2, 2017

celloA couple of months ago I took on the role of Interim Associate Dean, Teaching and Learning, for a six-month term. It has been an exciting time, with lots to learn and many new people to meet. I have been eager, but have learned already that some days there is a fine line between eagerness and exhaustion.

I have taken time to connect with leaders and administrators who have more experience in similar positions, to have coffee and ask for advice on how to succeed in the role. Without exception, their advice has included having a way to release stress and focus on something besides work.

This weekend I took their advice to heart, and in doing so, brought a decades-old dream come to life. When I was a child, like many of my classmates, I had the option to take music lessons. I immediately knew which instrument I wanted to study: the cello. My mother’s response was, “No, it’s too big and you’re too clumsy. I can’t afford to replace it if you break it. You can play the violin.”

So, for the next three or four years, I played the violin. I didn’t really like it. The neighbours didn’t appreciate it. The family cat certainly didn’t enjoy it. I puttered along for a few years, until my violin teacher discovered that, unlike my classmates, I had never learned how to read music. I learned by watching and listening. I learned to turn the pages of the music when everyone else did, but I had no idea what the notes on the page actually meant. In other words, I faked it. And I got away with it. To a point. I played well enough, learned mostly be ear and by watching others, but I never really excelled. After about four years, we started getting into symphony music and I crumbled. I just couldn’t keep up. When my teacher discovered my lack of literacy skills when it came to reading music and scolded me, I felt so embarrassed and ashamed that I gave up entirely. I handed in my violin and never took music lessons again.

Until now. Almost forty years later, I have returned to that childhood dream of learning to play the cello. This weekend, I rented a cello and signed myself up for regular weekly lessons. I have taken the cello out of its case to try it and see if any of the skills I had as a mediocre childhood violinist would transfer. As far as I can see, the answer is: hardly at all. I feel comfortable with the instrument, but it does not feel natural. I have tried bowing the strings a bit and it sounds bad. Interestingly, it does not sound as horrendous as I expected, but perhaps that is because I have memories of the high-pitched e-string on the violin. The deeper notes of the cello somehow seem less offensive.

I have decided to start my school year with Beginner’s Mind. This is a Zen concept which “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”

Beginners must also be patient with themselves as they learn and to accept where they are, while they strive to build mastery.

I will endeavour to practice my work as a new administrator and my learning as a novice student of music with a Beginner’s Mind. After over two decades as a teacher, it is easy for me to fall into the pattern of thinking and acting like an expert with my students. By putting myself in the position of being a novice learner, I will be reminded of what it is like not to know; to be excited one moment and frustrated the next; to be disciplined enough to practice even after a long day; to breathe and to learn to relax in order to learn better.

This time, I will not fake it. I will be humble enough to tell my teacher that I do not know how to read music and I will try, little by little, to learn in earnest, rather than merely cope. I will admit when I do not know something, rather than try to mask my lack of knowledge in order to fit in.

My goal for this academic year is to relish in the delights and drawbacks of being a beginner, and allow that mindset to help me become a better teacher. And yes, this time I intend to actually learn how to read music, too.

Related post: 7 tips for teachers to survive the school year http://wp.me/pNAh3-gz

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This blog has had over 1.6 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


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