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Psychology

Choosing a Topic

Where To Get Topic Ideas

Select a topic that interests you.  If you are interested in the topic, you’ll enjoy working on it, and that’s important.

  • Review your lecture notes, textbook chapters, and assigned readings for ideas.
  • Talk to people: friends, classmates, instructors, librarians. 
  • Web resources. Review these links.
    • American Psychological Association (APA) Topics
    • Psychology Today Basics
      • Note: These links are good places to start thinking about topics, but keep in mind that the topics listed on these website are very broad.  You may want to consider a certain aspect of a topic, for example, instead of a general topic like “bullying” choose something like “bullying prevention in middle school.”  See more about narrowing your topic, below
  • Databases
    • Databases are either general databases or subject-specific databases.  A great databases to start with is a general database called Academic Search Complete.  Try finding some articles that interest you.  It’s ok to start with a broad-based search and browse through the article titles and abstracts to get ideas.
    • An excellent subject-specific database for Psychology is PsycArticles.  Conducting a broad-based search in this database will also help you obtain ideas.
  • Background Reading
    • Learn more about possible topics.  Read background information from a specialized encyclopedia.  There are many online as well as in print.  A librarian can help you with this. 

Tips on picking a topic

From Picking Your Topic IS Research [Video], by the North Carolina State University Library, 2013, YouTube (https://youtu.be/Q0B3Gjlu-1o).

Managing the Scope of Your Topic

Too Broad, Too Narrow?  Or Just Right?

Make sure you pick a topic with a manageable scope, neither too broad, nor too narrow. 

As you start searching for information on your topic, you will fine-tune and tweak it based on the information you find.  Starting your research early will help you determine if your topic is too narrow or too broad.  You may find an article that really interests you and pulls you in that direction.  Keep an open mind as you start your research.

Too Broad

  • Topic example: Obesity
    • This is too broad.  You will be overwhelmed with the amount of information and unable to focus. There will be too many choices.  A better topic may be something like anxiety and overeating.

Too Narrow

  • Your topic can also be too narrow. If your topic becomes too specific, generalize or focus on a larger related problem. For example, if you want to know what effect the TV reality show 'Keeping Up With the Kardashians' has on adolescent girls’ body image, you may find very little if any information.  You may want to change your topic to effects of media influence on adolescent girls’ body image.
  • Ways to limit the scope of your topic (narrow it):
    • Who is the population I want to research (children, men, college students, elderly, ethnic group, occupation, etc.)?
    • What is the condition, illness or phenomenon (autism, bullying, schizophrenia, memory, etc.)
    • What aspect of this subject do I want to study (care and treatment, prevention, causes, outcomes, economic factors, etc.)?

Not finding enough information?

Having a narrow topic is one reason you will not find enough information.  There are other reasons as well.

  • Your topic may too new, making it unlikely that much has yet been written about it.
  • You have not searched enough databases or the most appropriate databases for information.  A librarian can help you select resources.
  • You need to expand your search terms to related terms and synonyms.  Researchers may use terms that are different from the ones you are using.  Check the database thesaurus for suggested terms and/or talk to a librarian.

Have a back-up topic in mind.  Sometimes your first topic is not the right one, for various reasons.  It’s a good idea to have a back-up topic in mind in case the first one does not work out.