Getting Started

Developing a research topic

Start broad, then narrow!

Begin with the big ideas:

  • What are you interested in, generally?
    • What topics are you excited to talk about with your peers? What are your favorite classes? What do you love about your major?​
  • What do you have a personal connection to?
    • What are you personally invested in learning more about over a sustained period of time? Is there a topic that has impacted your life in a meaningful way?
  • What kind of work do you enjoy doing?
    • Reading archival materials? Creating films? Building interactive websites? Interviewing people? Performing data analysis? Dissecting animals?​

    Then narrow your focus:

    • What do you already know about this topic?
      • Take note of the elements or areas of this topic that you are most interested in developing further knowledge about.
    • Look for gaps in the research.
      • Peruse secondary sources. What has already been said about this topic? What hasn’t been said?
      • Gaps in the research might look like:
        • Knowledge/content: we don’t know much about X (e.g., no one has collected data on this phenomenon).
        • Methods/framework: no one has looked at this problem from Y perspective (e.g., no one has applied a critical race framework to the study of this issue).
        • Connections: no one has made the connection between A and B (e.g., no one has examined the way this theme appears in both this novel and this film that came out in the same year).
    • Identify your primary “text(s).”
      • What text(s) (artwork, book, theory, phenomenon) will be the focus of your analysis?
    • Pose a research question.
      • What will you seek to discover through researching your primary text? What problem are you trying to solve?
      • A research question should be:
        • Answerable but complex
        • Specific
        • Concise

    Writing an abstract

    An abstract is a summary of your project that concisely explains the aims, outcomes, and implications of your research.  

    Abstract format

    As the brief guide below indicates, there is a general pattern that is often very effective for communicating why your research matters. First, you establish what the conventional wisdom is about your subject—what “they” say—and then you contrast it with what “you” say that moves the field forward. 

    • Start with the current state of knowledge. What do we know about your topic? 
    • State the problem you will address. What gap is your research filling? 
    • Explain your methodology: what did you or will you do to get your results or arrive at your conclusions?  
    • Share your goals: what do you aim to learn/discover? (For an abstract summarizing a finished research project, this would be the place to share your findings — what you learned/discovered.)
    • End with a conclusion and a statement of the larger implications of your project. 

    Writing a research proposal

    A research proposal should answer the following questions: What is the research question? How does this project fit into the scholarly conversation? What do you plan to accomplish? How do you plan to approach this research?

    The standard format for an URSCA research proposal is as follows. Proposals should be 4-6 pages, double-spaced. Any figures included in your proposal should be within the 6-page limit and may be embedded within the text or appended to the end and labeled accordingly.

    Title

    Should be concise and specific, and should relate to your research question.

      Background

      Provide an introduction to your topic. Think of this like the introduction you would write for a research paper. Remember to consider your audience: reviewers are not experts in your field, so make your summary of the topic accessible. What do we need to know about your topic so that we can understand your specific project?

      Problem/question

      What issue(s) will your research address? This is the place to state your research question.

      Literature review

      Give a brief overview of trends in the scholarly conversation. You will need to explore secondary research on your topic in order to write this section. Very briefly summarize the work of a few key scholars.

      Identify the gaps in the research. What hasn’t been studied yet? What do we not yet know? What needs more analysis? What frameworks/methodologies have not yet been applied to this topic? What connections have not yet been made?

      Goals

      Describe the anticipated outcomes of your project. Are you developing a novel medical device? Writing an original screenplay that will be performed at Hopkins? Producing an analysis of a literary work?

      Describe your project’s future value. What are you contributing to the field? How will your work impact our understanding of or approach to your topic? What future research might come out of your project?

      Methods

      What materials, approaches, and frameworks will you use to conduct your research? Are you running experiments in the lab? Analyzing data? Applying a feminist framework to a literary analysis?

      How are you engaging with current scholarship? Are you replicating an existing experiment? Are you building on another scholar’s ideas? Are you offering an alternative perspective on a dominant interpretation?

      References

      Cite sources you mention in your lit review or elsewhere in your proposal. You should have no more than five works cited in your proposal.

      Budget

      Use the URSCA budget template to itemize your expected expenditures for living expenses, travel costs, research materials, etc.