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Choosing a Topic


Remember: Research is not research until you have focused it around a solid research question that addresses an issue or a problem. If you do not have a focus question, you are merely writing a report. Research is "a problem solving exercise that takes data from various sources and analyses it to help you answer a burning question" (Badke, 2008, p. 178).

This list of steps is a guideline for you to use. Not everyone will do these steps in the same order and you may go back and forth between them.

1. Select a subject area that interests you in some way. Consider selecting an IB subject area in which you have taken a course.

2. List key words to help you look up information about the topic. You may need to do some preliminary reading first. It's a good idea to keep a separate notebook in which you'll record key words, notes, ideas and bibliographic references. (See Appendix below)

3. Read encyclopedias (specific/general), and other reference sources, to get an overview of the subject area.
Be prepared to photocopy articles so you can highlight keywords, passages and important ideas as you read. This is important- it's never easy to "go back" and find a great article or passage after the fact.

4. Once you begin to read widely on your subject, then you can begin to focus on a topic within the subject area that will be manageable within the 4000-word limit.
After you have read sufficiently, write a statement of purpose about the focused topic.

5. Brainstorm questions about your topic.

6. Next, group questions under similar headings. Add any new questions you can think of under those headings.

7. Repeat step 2, listing more key words from your newly focused topic and questions. Key words are essential!!!!

8. As. your read, continue listing sources that can answer your questions. Do not rely on one single type of resource.  Remember to keep track of the resources you use as you go. Keep track of page numbers or URLs. A Guide to the APA format for your References will guide is a citation maker program that will help you do this.

9. Visit a variety of libraries: your school, the public library, a university or college. (Use your Alberta Library Card)

10. Rewrite your statement of purpose into a draft thesis statement or question. For further information on this go to Writing a thesis statement.

11. Make an outline of your headings.

12. Refocus your thesis statement if necessary.

13. Write the body of your paper from your notes.

14. Cite any necessary information with parenthetical citations.  Visit the Dawson College Web Site for examples of how this is done.

15. Write your introduction and conclusion.

Tutorial on the Research Process by William Badke of Trinity Western University.


Listing Key Words
Making a list of the words that are important to your topic will help you find the information necessary for developing your purpose, research question(s), thesis and supporting evidence. They and called keywords because they "unlock" the passages that will lead you to useful information.

Where will I use keywords? You'll use them when you search in online databases, when using search engines to search the web, and when you use the indexes of print resources.

Where do I find keywords? As you read, you should highlight, underline, or jot down important words and phrases that are specifically related to your subject area. General keywords will ultimately be narrowed to more specific words, terms and phrases that relate directly to your topic. Your purpose and thesis statements and even your research questions should all contain keywords that are essential to your topic.

When should I begin to list keywords? As soon as you start reading you should start a list of keywords and phrases. You might try setting up 3 columns, one for key phrases, a second for keywords, and a third for synonyms (words that mean the essentially the same as your keyword) or related terms.

For example:

I am studying public funding for the arts because I want to find out how accessible the arts are to those people who are members of the "working poor in order to understand whether our tax dollars support cultural enrichment for all citizens regardless of their socio-economic status.

Key Phrases


Synonyms/Related Words

public funding for arts


state/federal funding for arts



cultural arts, fine arts

working poor


working class, minimum wage earners

tax dollars


income tax, state taxes, federal taxes




cultural enrichment


cultural opportunities




Research Tip: It is important to have an organized "place" to keep an ongoing keyword list. This is yet another reason to keep a research notebook.



Badke, W.B. (2008). Research strategies: Finding your way through the information fog. New York: iUniverse Inc.