From Personal Ideas to Research Topics

Scientific research is the means by which one views the world from various perspectives (scientific disciplines) to acquire new knowledge, increase understanding, and improve society.  Scientific research, as approached from varying theoretical and conceptual frameworks, is influenced by a broad range of epistemological perspectives and is comprised of a broad range of quantitative and qualitative research methodologies that lead to the development of new knowledge that can be used to describe, explain, and predict future events. However, all research begins with personal interest and it is personal interest that provides the means to remain focused during what may be a long journey to uncover some small truth about the world around us.

Personal interest alone does not meet the standards of scientific research. We can convert a personal interest into a researchable topic by grounding the personal interest in the a specific field of study. The philosophy of science is comprised of communities of thought. These communities represent a group of people who share a way of viewing the world. This shared paradigm is comprised of various artifacts that include various theories, concepts, documentation, and other relevant content used by the members of a community to improve their application of a specific body of knowledge.

Over time, these communities develop philosophical traditions and it is within these philosophical traditions personal interest must be grounded. In order to move personal interest into a philosophical tradition, we must convert the language and concepts of personal interest using the terminology and ideas of philosophical tradition. The above graphic depicts how this should happen. The concept is based on ideas presented by Machi and McEvoy (2016) in their book The Literature Review: Six Steps to Success. Personal interest passes through four phases of conversion that include keyword linking, definitions, and relevant theories and theorists matching. Once complete, the result will be a researchable topic that adheres to scientific standards.

1. Keyword. Use a subject-area thesaurus to find the synonyms that link appropriate academic terminology to the keywords of the interest statement.

2. Terminology. Using the results of the thesaurus search, consult subject-area dictionaries to determine if the definition of the terms selected fits your needs.

3. Theories. Using the newly found terminology, consult the subject-area handbooks for theories relating to the topics of the academic field. Subject-area handbooks can be organized in three ways.

  1. Chronological discussion of relevant theories as they evolves.
  2. Topically organized theories.
  3. Current discussions, hot topics, and emerging theoretical considerations.

4. Theorists. Using the keywords and terms, consult the subject-area encyclopedias for an overview of the subject, followed by a detailed discussion of relevant theories, relevant contributors and authors for further study.

Machi, L. A.; McEvoy, B. T. (2016).  The literature review: Six steps to success (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.


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