Starting a Research Project

We conduct in research in the social sciences to better understand the world around us.  Conducting research involves far more than synthesizing what others have already written on a subject, though that can be a useful step in the process. (See “Literature Review”.) It frequently involves collecting original data and/or analyzing the data that others have collected to gain new insights.

First Steps

1. Choosing and conducting preliminary research on a topic

One of the first things that you must do is probably the most obvious: choose a topic. In some cases, the topic — and perhaps event the question — may have already been chosen for you. But in many others, it may be left up to you to choose a topic.  When writing a paper for a class, always make sure that whatever topics you choose to consider are ones that fit the assignment.

A great first step, here, is to read what others have written about the subjects that interest you.  As much as possible, it is important to find a subject that you find interesting because you will be spending some time with it. It may be useful to read a variety of different sources and to also begin to discover what sort of data is available for your topic. For instance, if you are interested in the freedom of the press in African countries, you should consider looking up books on the subject, scholarly articles, news reports, and whether anyone has collected any data on the subject.

2. Formulating a research question and thesis

Second Steps

3. Choose a research method.

One thing you will need to do early on is identify the approaches or methods that are most useful in addressing your research question. One thing you may want to do is utilize multiple methods and data sources.

4. Creating a research prospectus or proposal

A research prospectus puts together the initial plan for your project.  It should lay out the research question, its importance, and the plan you have for addressing that research question. It is a great idea to seek and receive feedback on your prospectus.

The Next Steps

If you have created a research prospectus, then it is time to dive deeper into the actual process of research. For a political theorist, this might involve careful reading of key texts. For someone who has identified statistics as a tool they want to employ, it might involve finding or collecting data.

Contributor: Nicholas Quah