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Research Process Guide

Step 1: Identifying and Developing a Topic




Whatever your field or discipline, the best advice to give on identifying a research topic is to choose something that you find really interesting. You will be spending an enormous amount of time with your topic, you need to be invested. Over the course of your research design, proposal and actually conducting your study, you may feel like you are really tired of your topic, however,  your interest and investment in the topic will help you persist through dissertation defense.

Identifying a research topic can be challenging. Most of the research that has been completed on the process of conducting research fails to examine the preliminary stages of the interactive and self-reflective process of identifying a research topic (Wintersberger & Saunders, 2020).  You may choose a topic at the beginning of the process, and through exploring the research that has already been done, one’s own interests that are narrowed or expanded in scope, the topic will change over time (Dwarkadas & Lin, 2019).

Where do I begin?

According to the research, there are generally two paths to exploring your research topic, creative path and the rational path (Saunders et al., 2019).  The rational path takes a linear path and deals with questions we need to ask ourselves like: what are some timely topics in my field in the media right now?; what strengths do I bring to the research?; what are the gaps in the research about the area of research interest? (Saunders et al., 2019; Wintersberger & Saunders, 2020).The creative path is less linear in that it may include keeping a notebook of ideas based on discussion in coursework or with your peers in the field. Whichever path you take, you will inevitably have to narrow your more generalized ideas down. A great way to do that is to continue reading the literature about and around your topic looking for gaps that could be explored. Also, try engaging in meaningful discussions with experts in your field to get their take on your research ideas (Saunders et al., 2019; Wintersberger & Saunders, 2020).

It is important to remember that a research topic should be (Dwarkadas & Lin, 2019; Saunders et al., 2019; Wintersberger & Saunders, 2020):

  1. Interesting to you.
  2. Realistic in that it can be completed in an appropriate amount of time.
  3. Relevant to your program or field of study.
  4. Timely.
  5. Not widely researched.
  1. You want to make sure that you have access to the data to explore your topic. Meaning you do not want to choose a topic that has multiple barriers to data collection.
  2. It is OK to choose a topic that spans two fields (i.e. technology/psychology in UserX).
  3. Browse the ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global database for examples of dissertations completed by graduate students at Kean University and countless other academic institutions.



Dwarkadas, S., & Lin, M. C. (2019, August 04). Finding a research topic. Computing Research Association for Women, Portland State University.

Saunders, M. N. K., Lewis, P., & Thornhill, A. (2019). Research methods for business students (8th ed.). Pearson.

Wintersberger, D., & Saunders, M. (2020). Formulating and clarifying the research topic: Insights and a guide for the production management research community. Production, 30.