Coming Up with an Area of Interest
Formulating a Research
© 2006-2008 Martha J. Bianco, Ph.D.
I. Overview of Basic Concepts in Research Topic Selection
Your first step is coming up with an area of interest (e.g., cloning).
You will then need to narrow this topic down to several subtopic.
Your goal is to find a topic that is:
broad topic to cover in 10 to 15 pages
ethics of human cloning
and affords a pro and con position
genetic marker technology to screen embryos for Tay-Sachs syndrome
specific and technical for an undergraduate paper; requires
ethical debate about genetic screening
and affords a pro and con position
bland (and broad)
for and against genetic screening in at-risk populations
suggests an argument (pro and con) and is narrow enough for focus
grounded in beliefs, but rather in evidence
cloning should be banned
stems from opinion, not objective facts
ethics of human cloning
author to research and present both sides objectively, allowing for
analysis (e.g., breaking arguments up into categories)
simply a fact-finding mission
of at-risk mothers who submit to embryonic genetic testing
topic that will lead to a fact-finding mission rather than critical
race, class, and religion are related to at-risk mothers' decision to
submit to embryonic genetic testing
in several variables, affording the author an opportunity to propose
impossible to form into a research question
attitudes toward cloning
is a subjective matter of faith; topics associated with faith-based
concepts cannot be empirically researched
between people's religiosity and their attitude toward cloning
be directly transformed into an empiral research question (What is the
relationship between people's religiosity and attitude toward
cloning?), for which data (GSS data or survyes) is accessible
There are three basic types of research:
to find out about something; this is often qualitative in nature,
without necessarily a lot of "number crunching"; however, it is always
possible that quantitative data may emerge from exploratory research.)
something, usually with descriptive statistics, such as mean, median,
and mode, and with the use of tables and graphs; you will still need to
interpret the data and suggest correlations and other relationships)
(this type of
research is more advanced and requires the use of inferential
statistics, with a statistical hypothesis; here you may be attempting
to explain the relationship between variables and identify causality)
"Triangulation" refers to a research process that involves more than
one approach. You may be likely, for example, to do research
includes both exploratory and descriptive
There are six basic types of research methodology:
- literature review
- primary sources (e.g.,
court documents, medical records, slave narratives)
- secondary sources
(e.g., scholarly articles about court cases, medical issues, slavery)
- use and analysis of
secondary statistics (e.g., Census data, GSS data, etc. -- data someone
- observation (e.g., field
work, content analysis)
- survey (questionnaires,
usually administered to 30 or more people)
- interview (focus groups,
- experiment (control group
and experimental group; some "treatment" is administered to the
The methodology you use emerges from your research question. But your
research question emerges from your initial area of interest or
reading narrowing of research
area more background reading
research question more focused background
reading identification of
II. Choose a General Areas of Research Interest
Examine the following general subject areas (in bold)
and the subtopics within each and identify any that might be of
interest. There may be topics of interest that are not listed
here. Use these lists to help identify a general and then
more focused research area.
Controversial science and/or Medicine
- stem cells
- genetically modified foods
- involuntary sterilization
- medical marijuana
- use of animals in research and medicine
- human subjects experimentation
- steroid use among college athletes
Psyche and Soul
- cults and psychological manipulation
- serial killers: a historical overview of the effect of
serial killing and/or mass murders on the public psyche
- when kids kill
- road rage
- child abuse
- substance abuse and addiction
- global warming: fact or fiction?
- are we running out of oil?
- pros and cons of new development practices
- wetlands and greenspace protection: costs and benefits
- urban growth boundary: pros and cons
Privacy, Freedom, and Democracy
- identity theft: the issues and the risks
- civil liberties versus government enforcement of security
- the Internet and the public domain
- USA PATRIOT Act
- banned music: lyrics that threaten
- school prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance: religion in the
- public displays of religious art
- background and workplace checks and mandatory drug testing
- gun control
"Isms" (classism, sexism, racism)
- the death penalty/death row
- immigration: controversial issues around migrant workers
- racial profiling
- equal pay for equal work
- women and the glass ceiling
- hate crimes
- redlining: a thing of the past?
- affirmative action
- same-sex marriage versus civil unions: the debate
- "Don't ask, don't tell"
- Boy Scouts and homophobia
in the Music
- Slavery: "History in the Key of Jazz"
- Reading, writing, and dancing jazz: Langston Hughes, the
Harlem Renaissance, and the Alvin Ailey Dance Co.
- Transcending poetry: jazz, rap, and hip-hop
- Influence of the African Diaspora on contempoary trends in
popular music and dance
- "Let the Church Say Amen": the role of the religion and
gospel music in marginalized communities
Before going on, write down at least two general subject areas from above. Then, go on to Step B.
Example: (1) when kids kill and (2)transcending poetry: jazz, rap, and hip-hop
Step B. Narrow Your Topic
either (or both) of the following techniques to help you identify some
narrower topics for each of the general subject areas you identified in
Step A. Write down at least two narrower topics for each of the general subject areas from Step A, above.
(type in your odin
userid and password). You should see a listing of Hot Topics links. Begin exploring one or more of the
subtopics from above in the Hot
Topics links on the library page.
- Skim through the list of General
Topic Areasbelow. Each of these is followed by
These are, for the most
that contain a fairly broad overview
of the topic and a good list of references
from which to develop your reading list. Researchers build
bibliographies through a "snowball" process of reading one thing, which
leads to another, and so on. The pieces below are meant to
as good launching points for the "snowball" method of bibliography
your PSU (odin)
ID and password, you can access articles immediately and skim through
them to help you identify an area of interest.
Many of the topics above can be researched through this
section, as well.
Remember: write down at least two narrower topics for both of the general subject areas from Step A.
Then, go on to No. III, below.
(2)transcending poetry: jazz, rap, and hip-hop
(a) the different types of messages that jazz, rap, and hip-hop lyrics convey
(b) conflict in hip-hop (racism, sexism, classism)
III. From Curiosity to Research Question and Thesis Statement
You will probably need to do a little reading on your four (or so) more
narrow topics before deciding which one you want to begin narrowing
down into a researchable question and then a thesis statement.
Do a little reading around your narrowed-down topics from Step B above, and then move on to:
Cloning and Stem Cell Research (Dangerous / Perilous
- Fischbach, Gerald D., and Ruth L. Fischbach. "Stem Cells:
Science, Policy, and Ethics." Journal
of Clinical Investigation 114.10 (2004): 1364-1370.
Persistent link: http://proxy.lib.pdx.edu:2052/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&an=15068667
- Meslin, Eric M. "Of
Clones, Stem Cells, and Children: Issues and Challenges in Human
Research Ethics." Journal of Women's Health &
9.8 (Oct. 2000): 831-841. Persistent link: http://proxy.lib.pdx.edu:2052/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&an=5323915
- Phua, Kai-Lit. "The Human Genome Project and Genetic
Research: What Are the Implications for Ethics and Equity?" Critical Public Health
14.2 (2004): 191-200. Persistent link: http://proxy.lib.pdx.edu:2052/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&an=14167627
- Rifkin, Jeremy. "Ultimate Therapy." Harvard International Review
27.1 (2005): 44-48. http://proxy.lib.pdx.edu:2052/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&an=16438512
- Savulescu, Julian. "New Breeds of Humans: The Moral
Obligation to Enhance." Reproductive
BioMedicine Online 10 (Supp. 1, Mar. 2005): 36-39.
- Strong, Carson. "The Ethics of Human Reproductive Cloning."
BioMedicine Online, 10 (Supp. 1, Mar. 2005): 45-59.
Persistent link: http://proxy.lib.pdx.edu:2052/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&an=16440107http://proxy.lib.pdx.edu:2052/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&an=16440113
Eugenics, Involuntary Sterilization, Etc. (Dangerous / Perilous
(Racism, Sexist, Classism, Ageism, etc.) (Denied / Prohibited -
A larger number of resources are listed here, because this
upcoming next term. For those who may want to focus on this
research, the following resources may help. Note:
present time, this list is misleadingly incomplete, as it contains few,
if any, sources on sexual minorities, ageism, the differently abled, or
what I will refer to here as "cultural intolerance": that is,
intolerance of people with values, religious beliefs, and political
views that differ from those of the local majority -- for example,
religious conservatives at a public university in Portland, Oregon.
If you are interested in any of these topics, please contact me to discuss
how to proceed.
- Anderson, Elijah. "The
Emerging Philadelphia African American Class Structure." The ANNALS of the American
Academy of Political and Social Science 568 (2000): 54-77.
Persistent link: http://proxy.lib.pdx.edu:2345/cgi/reprint/568/1/54
- Collins, Patricia Hill. "Gender, Black Feminism, and
Black Political Economy." The ANNALS of the American
Academy of Political and Social Science 568 (2000): 41-53.
Persistent link: http://proxy.lib.pdx.edu:2345/cgi/reprint/568/1/41
- Collins, Patricia Hill. "Reflections on the
Outsider Within." Journal
of Career Development 26.1 (1999): 85-88. Persistent link:
- Du Bois, W. E. Burghardt, "The Study of the Negro
ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science
568 (2000): 13-27. (This was originally published in 1898 and is a
classic.) Persistent link: http://proxy.lib.pdx.edu:2345/cgi/reprint/568/1/13
- Boland, Tom. "Media Magic: Making Class
Invisible, by Gregory Mantsios." Online posting. Homeless People's
Network.15 Nov. 1998 <http://aspin.asu.edu/hpn/archives/Nov98/0235.html>.
Contains excerpts from Mantsios's book by same name.
- McIntosh, Peggy. "White Privilege: Unpacking the
Invisible Knapsack." Independent
School 49.2 (1990): 31-36. Persistent link: http://proxy.lib.pdx.edu:2052/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&an=9604164115.
- Shatila, Suzanne, Samual E. MacMaster, Jenny Jones, and
Chaffin. "C.R.A.C.K.: Unethical? What About Misogynist, Racist, and
Classist?" Journal of
African American Studies 9.1 (2005): 32-42. (C.R.A.C.K.
stands for Children Requiring a Caring Kommunity.) Persistent link: http://proxy.lib.pdx.edu:2052/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&an=18860441
- Sklar, Holly. "Imagine a Country: Life in the New
Millennium." Z Magazine
Online 16.3 (May 2003). <http://zmagsite.zmag.org/May2003/sklar0503.html>.
- "Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack II: Sexual Orientation."
- US Census Bureau. Poverty
- Wilson, William Julius. "Rising Inequality and the Case
for Coalition Politics." The ANNALS of the American
Academy of Political and Social Science 568 (2000): 78-99.
Persistent link: http://proxy.lib.pdx.edu:2345/cgi/reprint/568/1/78
Howard. "Behind Blue Eyes." 1997. <http://www.soc.ucsb.edu/faculty/winant/whitness.html>.
This article appears on Winant's own website, but it was also
published as "Behind
Whiteness and Contemporary US Racial Politics." New Left Review 225
The Tortured Human Soul (Frightening
/ Fragile Knowledge)
This is not a very complete list. There are many additional
besides child abuse that might fall into this category. Contact me if you are
interested in pursuing a particular topic.
- Andrew, Gail. "A Grounded Theory of Sexual Abuse." Diss.
University of Saskatchewan, 2004. <http://library.usask.ca/theses/available/etd-08242004-131610/unrestricted/finalversion24aug.pdf>.
Although this is a doctoral dissertation, the author delves
the topic of child abuse in a way that is interesting yet scholarly.
- Schwartz, Mark F. "Treatment of Sexual Trauma: A 15-Year
Addiction and Compulsivity 5.2 (1998): 83-92. Persistent
- Child Abuse
& Neglect: The International Journal.
Past 12 months only
are available through the PSU library online. If interested,
go to http://proxy.lib.pdx.edu:2082/science/journal/01452134
to access the last 12 months and skim through the table of contents of
individual issues. You can download (save) any that are of
interest to you, which you should
right away, before the PSU license for a particular article expires.
This journal uses a lot of statistical methodology and would
provide an excellent
for practicing statistical interpretation. By the end of this
year, you should be able to understand all of the statistical
procedures in the articles fairly well, so do not let those scare you
Ethics of Testing and Experimentation on Human Subjects (Dangerous / Perilous
Message in the Music/Beat in the Streets (Frail and Unwelcome
A larger number of resources are listed here, because this subject is
upcoming next term. For those who may want to focus on this
for research, the following resources may help.
- Baldwin, Davarian. “Black
Empires, White Desires: The Spatial Politics of Identity in the Age of
Hip Hop.” BlackRenaissance/Renaissance
Noire 2.2 (July
- Best, Steven, and Douglas Kellner. "Rap, Black Rage, and
Racial Difference." Enculturation
2.2 (Spring 1999)<http://enculturation.gmu.edu/2_2/best-kellner.html>.
- D, Chuck. Fight the Power: Rap, Race, and
- Dumain, Ralph. "The Autodidact Project: Black Studies,
Music, America vs. Europe Study Guide." 8 Nov. 2004. <http://www.autodidactproject.org/guidblak.html>.
Tons of links to music, film, and more.
- Everett, Anna 1954- "The Revolution Will Be Digitized:
Afrocentricity and the Digital Public Sphere." Social Text-71 20.2
(Summer 2002): 125-146. Persistent link: http://proxy.lib.pdx.edu:2187/journals/social_text/v020/20.2everett.pdf
- Forman, Murray. The 'Hood Comes First: Race,
Space, and Place in Rap and Hip-Hop.
- Mitchell, Tony, ed. Global Noise: Rap and Hip-Hop
Outside the USA.
- Osumare, Halifu."Beat
Streets in the Global Hood: Connective Marginalities of the Hip Hop
Globe." Journal of
American and Comparative Cultures 24.1/2 (2001): 171-181.
Persistent link: http://proxy.lib.pdx.edu:2052/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&an=14368294
New Afrikan Journal of Culture, Politics & Consciousness.
Online scholarly journal at
with lots of good starting ideas; see especially Volume 3: Mau Mau
Music-Hip-Hop, Dancehall, Calypso.
- Rose, Tricia. Black Noise: Rap Music and Black
Culture in Contemporary America.
- Stewart, James B. "Message in the Music: Political
Commentary in Black Popular Music from Rhythm and Blues to Early Hip
of African American History 90.3 (Summer 2005): 196-225.
Persistent link: http://proxy.lib.pdx.edu:2052/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&an=18556964
- Taylor, Timothy. Strange Sounds: Music,
Technology, and Culture.
Globalism and Imperialism (Unwelcome,
Dangerous, and Double-Bound Knowledge)
- Global Policy Forum. Evolving
Empire. Global Policy Forum. <http://www.globalpolicy.org/empire/history/historyindex.htm>.
This site includes many links to published and reproduced articles,
mostly newspapers; you'll need to follow through to find scholarly
- Global Policy Forum. Globalization:
The World Bank.
Global Policy Forum.
This site focuses on how the World Bank's policies of lending
money to third-world nations leaves those nations in a Catch-22
regarding how to deal with local economic development and poverty.
Film* and Reality (Inaccessible,
Unattainable, Ambiguous Knowledge)
wishing to engage in a critical analysis of "Literature and Reality" may
choose to review appropriate literature and write about those works in
the same way that the student writing about film would; the idea here
is to discuss how works of art (cinema, literature, poetry, etc.) urge
the audience to ask the question, "What is real?" Note that
students wishing to focus on other forms of art (music, poetry, drawing,
may wish to do so under the "Frail and Unwelcome Knowledge" category,
which is addressed above in "Message in the Music / Beat in the
Streets." Work with the instructor to modify this topic to
- Cook-Sather, Alison. "Movements of Mind: The Matrix,
Metaphors, and Reimagining Education." Teachers College Record
105.6 (August 2003): 946-977. Persistent link: http://proxy.lib.pdx.edu:2052/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&an=10193310.
- Egginton, William "Reality is Bleeding: A Brief History of
Film from the Sixteenth Century." Configurations
9.2 (Spring 2001): 207-229. Persistent link: http://proxy.lib.pdx.edu:2187/journals/configurations/v009/9.2egginton.html
- Flannery-Dailey, Frances, and Rachel Wagner. "Wake Up!
Gnosticism and Buddhism in The Matrix." Journal
of Religion and Film 5,2 (October 2001). <http://www.unomaha.edu/~wwwjrf/gnostic.htm>
- Garza, Gilbert. "Descartes in The Matrix:
Addressing the Question 'What Is Real?' from Non-Positivist Ground." Janus Head 7.2
(2004): 435-467. <http://www.janushead.org/7-2/Garza.pdf>.
- Lavery, David. "From Cinescape to Cyberspace: Zionists and
Agents, Realists and Gamers in The
Matrix and eXistenZ."
Popular Film and Television 28.4 (2001): 150-58.
Persistent link: http://proxy.lib.pdx.edu:2052/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ufh&an=3872329
- Žižek, Slavoj "Welcome to the Desert of the Real!" The South Atlantic Quarterly
101.2 (Spring 2002): 385-389. Persistent link: http://proxy.lib.pdx.edu:2052/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&an=7280555