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ENGL 2A: Critical Thinking & Writing (Crafts)

Short Videos on Choosing and Narrowing a Topic

There are links here to a wide variety of videos, with very different personalities and styles, that all have something important to say about finding and narrowing a research topic. Times are given for each video. They are all quite short! 

The image below outlining the research process is a good one to discuss the Exploration step in particular. It kind of explains why students often want to skip it.

Model of the Research Process

Image source: Kuhlthau, C. (2004). Seeking meaning : a process approach to library and information services. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Research Questions (3:13)

Research Questions (3:13) is a very lively video from Joshua Vossler at Winona State University discussing the difference between open-ended and closed questions for a research paper.

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Picking Your Topic IS Research (3:10)

Picking Your Topic IS Research, a 3-minute video from North Carolina State University, does an excellent job of describing the complexities of "choosing a topic."

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Developing a Research Question (6:25)

Developing a Research Question (6:25) comes courtesy of the University of Waterloo. It does an exceptional job of showing the logical "steps" and goes really well with the Model of the Research Process chart above. It also includes several specific examples and a very nice use of Concept Mapping. 

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Proquest Research Companion

The following is a series of short videos that are part of a bigger program called the Proquest Research Companion: 

Each is on a different aspect of topic narrowing. While students would benefit from seeing the whole series, "No easy topics" and "Narrowing your topic" could stand alone. "Finding a Gap in the Research" tackles a very tough issue for many students and is very well done.

Short Videos from Proquest Research Companion

Finding a topic you're curious about (2:35) makes some excellent points about the critical difference between a topic you LIKE and what you are CURIOUS about.

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The trouble with strong opinions (1:24) succinctly cautions students on the dangers of picking a topic they have "decided on" ahead of time!

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Asking questions  (2:40) explains how reading topic overviews can help you get from something you are curious about to an actual topic and gives examples of how topic ideas can evolve and lead to different researchable questions. The optional "Tell me more" at the end gives a clever example of a potential topic question -- Are people nicer today than 100 years ago?

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Finding a gap in the research (1:48) will help you distinguish the characteristics of good research questions & bad research questions and makes a case for looking where experts disagree or where there is no definitive answer for a good research question!

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Narrowing your topic (2:47) gives some good examples of topics that are "too broad" and then some related examples of narrower ones. The Review question is very nice!

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Marijuana legalization example (2: 21) can actually stand alone but is a kind of review and summary of the previous videos and ideas.

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No easy topics (58s) is a really excellent and short piece of advice!

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What makes a good research paper topic? A Poll for Discussion

Which of these characteristics of a potential paper topic is most important?
the topic is dominating the day's news: 1 votes (10%)
the topic is one you want to know more about: 8 votes (80%)
the topic is one you already know nearly everything about: 0 votes (0%)
the topic will be easy to write about: 0 votes (0%)
a topic you can reasonably assume will be easy to write about: 1 votes (10%)
Total Votes: 10
TRUE or FALSE? If you have strong opinions about your topic, your paper will always be the better for it.
TRUE: 4 votes (50%)
FALSE: 4 votes (50%)
Total Votes: 8
TRUE or FALSE? A good research question is one that is easy to find information about.
TRUE: 1 votes (14.29%)
FALSE: 6 votes (85.71%)
Total Votes: 7
TRUE or FALSE? A good research question is one that is not controversial.
TRUE: 0 votes (0%)
FALSE: 9 votes (100%)
Total Votes: 9
TRUE or FALSE? A good research question is one that can be answered with information from one good scholarly article.
TRUE: 0 votes (0%)
FALSE: 8 votes (100%)
Total Votes: 8
TRUE or FALSE? You know you have picked a good topic when all the sources you find can be used to validate what you assumed was true from the outset.
TRUE: 2 votes (25%)
FALSE: 6 votes (75%)
Total Votes: 8
Which of these characteristics imply that your research question is probably pretty good?
It is extraordinarily complex.: 1 votes (14.29%)
All the experts agree.: 0 votes (0%)
Most people will instinctively disagree with it.: 0 votes (0%)
There are dozens of books written about it.: 0 votes (0%)
Experts disagree on the answer.: 1 votes (14.29%)
You were able to quickly find all the sources of information you will need in one good database search.: 0 votes (0%)
You're going to have to do a lot of reading to formulate an answer.: 5 votes (71.43%)
Total Votes: 7
TRUE or FALSE. The kind of research you do for papers in classes like this is not what you would ever have to do in the real world.
TRUE: 0 votes (0%)
FALSE: 5 votes (100%)
Total Votes: 5