The purpose of this phase is to identify and select a general topic. To do this, you will want to:
Read your assignment carefully - note important details of the assignment prior to commencing thinking about a topic. How many pages, 5 or 15, makes a difference in the focus of a topic and the resources you may consult. Often, the assignment's instructions will indicate the number of sources you need, how current the sources must be, and whether you need to use primary or secondary sources. Other considerations include the due date (will you have time to retrieve information from interlibrary loan, interview experts, etc.?), what the paper is worth, where are marks assigned (introduction, abstract, citation style, etc.). Spend time planning with respect to assignment guidelines so that you start on the right track from the beginning!
Read your lecture notes for ideas - note interesting topics that have been discussed, or will be covered in upcoming lectures. Review recommended reading lists and your textbook, and course outline for topics and themes that might spark good research questions. Consider possible topics based on personal interest in light of assignment requirements and time commitments.
Talk to others - discuss possible topics with classmates, friends, even family. Consult with informal experts (e.g. professional in the fields, embedded librarian). Make an appointment with your professor to discuss preliminary topic ideas.
Most importantly, start NOW - it is important to start considering and weighing potential topics as soon as you know that you have a research assignment. Do not wait until a couple of weeks before the assignment is due. Beginning early allows you to explore a variety of topics, rather than being "stuck" with a topic of little personal interest.
Although you may view writing as the final step in the research process, writing can be a useful tool for exploring topics, formulating a research focus, and organizing ideas. Here are a few strategies that can be helpful when exploring topics for research:
The Topic Selection Phase is often characterized by uncertainty and apprehension, but also anticipation as it can be exciting to learn about a new topic area!
Not understanding the assignment - you may feel uncertain about the assignment when you read through it at first. It may seem overwhelming, difficult, or even impossible. However, spending time reviewing all the criteria for the assignment helps to alleviate some uncertainty. Often professors provide detailed instructions in the assignment that you need to consider even before choosing your general topic.
Not knowing anything about a topic - professors often provide a list of topics from which you can pick. You may be apprehensive when scanning the list and realizing you don't know anything about any of the proposed topics. Or you are able to choose your own topic for the research paper, but you are unable to do so because you don't know anything yet about the topics discussed in class. You can alleviate some of your apprehension by starting to think about appropriate topics right at the beginning of the semester. As new ideas are presented in class and your assigned readings, your knowledge base builds so that you can make a more informed decision on topic selection.