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Sociology Research Basics: Develop Your Topic

Learn to research with ease using credible, college-appropriate resources to frame, guide, and inform your projects

What Are You Trying to Figure Out?

Research works best when it is tackled with the true spirit of inquiry. What are you ultimately trying to figure out in regards to your topic?  Are you trying to gain an overview of a brand new topic, or understand something familiar with greater depth and clarity? Are you trying to develop a new idea or find the best arguments for or against an existing idea? Are you trying to find a solution to a problem? Approaching research through the lens of inquiry is a great way to keep you motivated. You aren't just looking for information, you're looking for ANSWERS!

Select a Meaningful Topic

Whenever you are given the freedom to do so, select a topic that genuinely interests you and/or is relevant to your life. Do a quick inventory:

  • What makes you tick? What defines you?
  • What problems affect you or someone close to you?
  • What do you think the biggest problem in society is?

You'll want to consider the following issues before you select your topic:

  • Will it sustain my interest?
  • Does it fit the parameters of my assignment?
  • Is credible information on this topic readily available?

Ideas for Generating Topic Ideas

Generating Topic Ideas

Preliminary Reading helps you evaluate and refine topics

Why Undertake Preliminary Reading

Do some background reading to get more acquainted with your topic and help figure out the story you want to tell in your speech. Preliminary reading is a great help in developing your main points, as well as identifying useful search terms for future database searching.

The point is not to start gathering your actual sources -- though you may very well find some along the way -- but to get comfortable with your topic by consulting engaging, easy to understand sources.




Resources for Preliminary (or Background) Reading

Decide What Story You Want to Tell

While you're doing your background reading, think about what you find interesting, what you find challenging, what you find puzzling. Take notes because you're actually starting to think about what you want to say in your paper.

Once you have an idea of the story you want to tell, your job is to find the best sources possible to help you tell that story in a compelling -- and credible -- way. As you begin to gather the best sources, be sure to pay attention to the number and type of sources required by your professor.

With your plan in mind, you'll next create research questions that will focus your search for information to support the points you want to make and help define the flow of your paper. 

Create Research Questions

Start simply. You may not know a lot about your topic, so it is okay to start by asking a few basic questions to launch the research process. For example:

  • What is income inequality?
  • Does income inequality affect health care options for people?

Do some background reading. Begin to explore your topic using resources like Gale eBooksCQ Researcher, and Issues & Controversies. Getting some basic background information on your topic may help you answer some of those initial questions, as well as give you ideas on how to expand your list of questions.

Be bold! Don't be afraid to pose questions to which you have no idea of the answer. That is what the research process is all about...finding answers.

Consider your list a work in progress. As you begin to answer your questions expect your list to change. You may add new questions, expand existing questions, and discard questions. This refining process is a natural part of the research process. It's how you learn.

How to Create Research Questions

As you know, your paper needs to have an Introduction, a Body that includes your analysis and evidence (your sources), and a conclusion. Below, you'll see a chart that will help you create research questions for each of those sections of your paper.