Selecting a topic area of research can be a difficult and daunting choice for young investigators. You must choose wisely as each paper that you publish will begin to establish your reputation and authority within your target field. Consider your broad area of interest and begin narrowing down the field to a small sub-set of interest.

The best way to do narrow down the field to a small sub-set of interest is to conduct a literature review. Identify a gap in the literature – or a question that has not yet been answered in published literature. Or, locate a topic where the published literature is “thin” and there is not a lot yet written. Or, locate an older topic that may have a lot of older literature, but perhaps the field has changed dramatically due to scientific or technological advances, and nothing new has been written. These are all good ways to select a good research topic.

Below are additional tips and tricks regarding how to find a good research topic, how to select appropriate sources for your research, how to outline the manuscript, paraphrasing versus plagiarism, and how to cite your sources. These are just a few ideas to help get you started on your research journey.

Finding a Research Topic:

  • Brainstorm and share topic ideas in writing groups and conferences
  • Read peer-review journals in your field, identify a gap in the literature
  • Think about your job experience and interests
  • Topics in the “Room For Debate” section of the NY Times
  • Setup a Google Scholar Alert for your broad interest
  • Consider the main conclusions in previous research in this area
  • Identify the gaps in the literature or where is existing knowledge thin

Selecting Appropriate Sources:

  • Use the library databases (PubMed, Web of Science)
  • Identify the top peer-reviewed journals in your field
  • Ensure timeliness, find peer-reviewed papers in the last 1-3 years in your topic area
  • Check reliability by ensuring there is a full bibliography, verify dates, data, and quality
  • Determine if the author is an authority in your field, well-known scholar in the field
  • Partner with the librarians/research development/research writer
  • Model reliable studies in a new population
  • Use Google Scholar

Outlining Your Manuscript

  • As sources and information are discovered, assign colors to help group themes
  • Create an annotated bibliography from a focused literature review
  • Create an outline based on your Target Journal
  • Use Google slides as digital notecards which can also be rearranged
  • Identify all the key concepts and main perspectives in this area
  • Put research onto note cards which can easily be grouped and rearranged

Paraphrasing versus Plagiarism

  • Practice paraphrasing by writing a summary and putting ideas in bullet points
  • Run papers though Grammarly.com or PaperRater.com to check grammar and plagiarism
  • Use Draftback, a Google extension, to create a live-action movie of a paper’s creation
  • Upload your paper ReciteWorks.com to compare in-text citations with your reference list

Citing Sources

  • Use Zotero.org and the Google Extension Add-On
  • Use Endnote
  • Use Mendeley, Papers, RefWorks, or some other citation management software