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Focusing and Justifying Study

tekijä: Tanja Tuulikki Välisalo Viimeisin muutos tiistai 09. maaliskuuta 2010, 15.23


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There are several highly necessary phases within this first stage. Although we present, and advise you to follow, the phases in a logical sequence, remember that each phase interacts with the others.

Essential areas of this research stage are:  


Selecting the Topic

The first stage of your research project focuses on choosing a suitable and meaningful topic.

You need to find the topic interesting because self-motivation (your motivation) is the key driving force in maintaining your interest in the topic throughout the duration of the research process. It is not recommendable to choose a wholly unfamiliar topic, because the time you will need to learn the basics of the topic will negatively affect your research schedule. For example Master’s students often carry forward the topic of their MA thesis into their PhD thesis.

We also advise finding out whether there is either:

(a) a lot of existing research on the topic or

(b) very little existing research on the topic.

The problem with (a) is that you may have difficulty in finding an original point of view and producing new knowledge. The problem with (b) is that while any knowledge you produce will be new, you will not have any guidelines on how to collect and analyse suitable and indeed valid data. You should also be aware that some topics may be impossible to research. The topic is impossible to research if the related data:

  • is not accessible (i.e. held in secure locations to which you do not have access),
  • does not exist and is technically or economically unfeasible to collect

You should, also, when choosing your topic, take into account that having a supervisor who understands the topic will benefit you immensely. We suggest you should therefore choose a topic related to the research focuses of your department or institute. In rare cases, an organisation may ask you to do research on their behalf. This type of work is known as a commission. A core aspect of a commission is that the commissioning organisation will fund and/or otherwise support your research. You will use the same criteria for finding a suitable and meaningful topic for a commissioned research project as you would for a standard research project, even though the commission usually sets certain conditions or preferences.

Links to more information:

Choosing a Topic. Research Guide, 2007. Duke University Libraries.

Selecting a Research Topic. Stewart Library, 2009. Weber State University.

Reis, Richard, M., 1999. Choosing a Research Topic. The Chronicle of Higher Education.


Focusing the Topic

Focusing the topic means you will move from a broad view to a narrow view and finally to a particular phenomenon.Your research interests will influence how you narrow the focus on the topic. We advise you choose a point of view (orientation), which you find interesting and rewarding. Your personal skills and abilities and the time available for your research will influence how you narrow the focus of both your topic and orientation. The manner and depth of your research into your narrow research topic generally depends on one factor: you need to produce new knowledge, quite different from previous research. You can narrow your focus through a countless variety of ways. You may, for example, focus on a particular time period, a specific population or group of people, a geographic location, a particular genre of data, etc. You may also focus on the research topic by exploring from one particular point of view or with one particular concept, etc.   

Links to more information:

Refining a Topic. Research Guide, 2007. Duke University Libraries.


Getting acquainted with the previous research

In the process of choosing and focusing your research topic and planning the research, you get to know the previous research literature related to the topic.

Reading the literature will enable you:

  • To gain insights to points of views, concepts, theories and methods which other researchers have used to research the topic;
  • To discover which kinds of points of views, concepts, theories and methods are useful to use in research of the topic;
  • To avoid making the mistakes of other researchers as far as either particular research problems or breadth of focus are concerned;
  • To map possible points of view and concepts;
  • To take a critical interest towards previous research;
  • To make a list of texts for close reading, if you have chosen this as your research method.

Links to more information:

Routio, Pentti, 2007. Finding References. Arteology, the science of products and professions. The Aalto University School of Art and Design.

Routio, Pentti, 2007. Source Criticism. Arteology, the science of products and professions. The Aalto University School of Art and Design.

Handley, Elaine and Oaks, Susan. Finding Sources. In Research Room. Empire State College.

Handley, Elaine and Oaks, Susan. Evaluating Sources. In Research Room. Empire State College.

Graham, Amanda, 2009. A Guide to Reading and Analysing Academic Articles. Amanda Graham’s Web Page and Circumpolar Info Centre.

Rubba, Johanna, 2005. How to read research articles. In The Language of Literature. California Polytechnic State University.


Mapping possible points of view and concepts

You need to find out which points of view and concepts are suitable for your chosen research topic because you will have to present your own variations.

A point of view means approaching a topic from a certain perspective and by stressing certain focuses and aims.

A concept means a verbal definition of an abstract idea, which includes meanings in particular context and use.

By reading the research literature, you will discover which points of view other researchers have used in research of the topic and what kinds of concepts are related to the topic.

Mapping all the possible points of views and concepts, enables you to discuss, which points of views and concepts are suitable and necessary for your research.

Links to more information:

Trochim, William M., 2006. Problem Formulation. The Research Methods Knowledge Base, 2nd Edition.

Trochim, William M., 2006. Concept Mapping. The Research Methods Knowledge Base, 2nd Edition.