Taking up an independent research project is an important step that can greatly influence your overall college experience. Not all students find it necessary to do it, but those who do both hugely benefit from it and create a lot of trouble for themselves.
How the project is going to turn out is often determined early on, at the stage of choosing a topic – which means that you should pay special attention to it. So how do you choose from among all the topics available to you? In this article, you will find all the necessary information about it.
Consider Your Options
The work on a research project usually starts in one of two ways. You either offer your own topic or choose one from the list of topics offered by your advisor. The former option is usually available when dealing with humanities, business, law, and other similar subjects.
The latter is more common for engineering and science. However, there is no guarantee that your college follows this pattern. For example, you may get an opportunity to choose from a list of finance or accounting research topics, or invent your own one – it depends on the current preferences of your university and the accounting department.
Discuss Your Ideas with Your Supervisor
The earlier you discuss your ideas with your supervisor, the better. Depending on the situation, he/she will be able to suggest whether it is better for you to develop your own topic or choose a pre-existing one, help you write a research proposal, and assist you in other ways.
Not all supervisors are equally invested in the work of their students, but usually, you can expect them to give you sound advice.
Read a Lot of Research Materials
If you want to develop your own original research topic, start with reading widely to find a subject that you find genuinely interesting. Read books, journal articles, and theses, preferably recent ones, to immerse yourself in the current research on the subject.
It will give you some ideas about potential topics that remain undeveloped so far. In addition, you will get more familiar with the publications that can be useful in your future research.
Narrow Down the Scope of Your Research
Once you have singled out a general area you are interested in, start working on narrowing the scope of your future research down. Here are a few guidelines as to how you should do it.
- Be specific. Choose a single, clearly-defined research question you can formulate in one sentence.
- Be realistic. Consider the size of your research project, the time you are going to need to complete it, and the funds that may be necessary to lead it to a conclusion. Make sure you do not bite off more than you can chew.
- Be original. Make absolutely sure you do not duplicate the existing research or cover a topic very similar to that of an existing paper.
- Be prepared. Check if there are enough credible sources of information on the topic.
Write a Research Proposal
In order to apply for an independent research project, you have to prove that you know what you are doing and that your research is worth pursuing. To do so, you have to write a research proposal where you outline your project and develop an argument in favor of your research topic.
The exact format of the research proposal may differ from university to university and even from department to department, but usually, it is supposed to contain the following.
- Introduction – here you provide a brief outline of your future research project, the issues you intend to address, and objectives you want to achieve.
- Background – here you provide the context for the proposed research. Show that you are familiar with the existing works on the subject matter, point out the gaps in already written research, cite the most important publications on relevant topics.
- Significance – here you show why your project is important and how it is going to contribute to the existing research in the field.
- Methodology – here you explain how you are going to carry out your research. List and describe your research methods, the sources you intend to use, as well as approaches to collecting, processing, and analyzing data. Don’t forget to mention potential limitations of your methods and ethical considerations.
- References – if necessary, here you quote the most important works in the field that are somehow related to your proposed project.
Do not forget to consult your supervisor at all stages of your work. He/she most likely have seen dozens of research project developed from inception to conclusion, and can help you avoid many mistakes you are likely to make. If you proceed in the wrong direction, it is better to find it out early on than to redo huge swathes of your work later on.