Picking a Research Topic, Part 2

But what if there’s no topic I’m interested in?

So you read Part 1 of Picking a Research Topic, but still, no research topic came to mind. You scoured your brain, dug through old syllabi, and sat on a grassy field waiting for inspiration to strike, coming at last to the conclusion that, “well, there’s clearly no academic research topic I’m interested in.”

I’m here to tell you that, of course, there is! You may just not have found it yet, and that’s totally okay. The world is so full of information that it may seem like none of it is within reach, tangible, or relevant. As with just about everything, starting (the research process) is always the hardest part, but once you clear that hurdle, which is what I’m here to help you do, the rest of the experience can be extremely rewarding.

A more personal approach

If you do find yourself at a loss for research inspiration because you fear that nothing you’ve studied academically is particularly compelling, think of what you do find interesting outside of your academic life. It could be cooking, fantasy books, hikes, birds, stamp collecting, airplanes, Disney World—you name it.

Try to approach this topic with an inquisitive and critical lens, asking perhaps why you, and probably millions of others, might be drawn to it. If it’s something you know not many care for, why could that be the case? Is there a community, whether locally, globally, or virtually, of people who do engage in this activity or find this item interesting? What value or meaning do people find—or not find—in this activity? These are all great questions to help get you started on a topic.

Exploring your environment

Alternatively, think of your physical location in the world. Perhaps consider what kinds of businesses and institutions succeed around you and which don’t, why teenagers choose to hang out in a particular location after school, what ethnic communities have found their home in this area and how, what plant or animal species thrive or don’t at a local pond, or why graduation statistics from a nearby high school or college take on the shape that they do.

Depending on how you frame your question, all of these topics can be methodologically and theoretically situated in various fields like Anthropology, Sociology, History, Psychology, Childhood Development, Film, Computer or Data Science, Biology, Archaeology—really in any field!

The framework you employ to conduct your research can help you penetrate the field from a multitude of angles, sometimes within the same project. For instance, you can create a documentary that combines ethnographic interviews and 3-D visualizations of an ancient site to explore how current communities were shaped.

Credits to the author.

By exploring a topic with personal value to you, you not only get to learn more about your favorite things and about yourself, but you also get a chance to make the world around you make a bit more sense.

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