How to Select a Research Problem

This guide was designed to help students select a proper research problem in five steps.

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The research problem can be defined as the central idea of the paper, and it affects how the author will analyze and organize the information to be presented. This problem can represent a concern of the author, a situation that needs improvement, or a question requiring additional exploration. It is vital for students to choose topics that they find interesting because the thorough research necessary to develop a proper paper can be exhausting. Research demands focus and an understanding of various aspects that affect the issue in question.

Three Components of a Good Research Problem Statement
Figure 1. Components of a good research problem statement (created by the author)

Figure 1 presents three crucial elements that a student should consider when choosing a research topic. Some professors will present a list of issues that can guide students and make a choice easier. While this makes the process of preparation more manageable, the three components in Figure 1 should not be ignored. First, the paper’s required scope of investigation should fascinate the student, who will have to sort through large volumes of information as part of proper preparation for writing a paper. It is much easier to focus on the task when exploring a question that is exciting and has practical application in real life. Second, it is essential to choose a perspective that finds support in papers and articles from peer-reviewed journals or credible sources. Scholars who do not explore their topic properly run the risk of writing papers that present only the author’s viewpoint, one that is not supported by the evidence. Finally, the writer must choose a critical issue relevant to current events.

Working with a specific topic

  • Step 1. Brainstorm the ideas and concepts to be discussed in the paper based on the information provided by the instructor.
    Example of the topic
    “The importance of student research in developing analytical skills”
    The main factors to consider then include student research and analytical capabilities.
  • Step 2. Read background information to understand the general aspects of the issue in question. From the previous example, it can be concluded that data on student research along with its benefits and challenges, as well as connection to cognitive skills, can help in understanding the matter in question. For this step, any credible information source is suitable, including the university library, Google Scholar, or another database.
  • Step 3. It is important to cite sources that can support the claims of the research topic. However, to ensure that the problem and the context of the work are well-written, it is crucial to locate additional sources that present arguments against the position the author is trying to convey. In this case, articles and studies that indicate an adverse effect of student research on analytical skills can help strengthen the paper. By discussing points that contradict the original idea, a student will be able to broaden the scope of discussion.
  • Step 4. Synthesize the ideas from the resources and form a personalized view on the topic, which will be reflected in the paper. For example, the explored articles may provide sufficient evidence suggesting that the efficacy of student research is valid. Thus, the research paper will include specific benefits that individuals gain by engaging in the activity.

Choosing topic from a list

  • Step 1. Carefully read all the issues and highlight the most interesting. As previously mentioned, it is crucial to choose an aspect that will be motivating to study, which may be difficult to do when only one research topic is given. In comparison, this option offers a student more freedom for expressing thoughts and ideas.
  • Step 2. Choose an idea that represents personal views, opinions, and personal relevance. This step represents the approach illustrated in Figure 1 as it is crucial to engage in the writing process.
  • Step 3. Carry out preliminary research as described in Step 2 and Step 3 of the previous section to gather materials and form an opinion on the subject. Use hints from Step 4 to create a general understanding of what should be discussed in the paper.

Choosing your own topic

  • Step 1. Dedicate time to look through course materials and write down possible options. This does not have to represent actual research topics; simply mentioning aspects that would be interesting to explore can help in making a proper choice in the future.
    As previously mentioned, the task of choosing an appropriate research topic requires thorough consideration. Thus, a student should ensure that sufficient time is spent on sorting through ideas and refining concepts that can be used in a future paper. While it may seem like a ten-minute job, it is much better to schedule time depending on the scope of the paper; logically, a two-page essay will require less work than a ten-page paper or a dissertation.
  • Step 2. Ensure that the options you choose represent aspects you find exciting. With this approach, the assignment will present a valuable opportunity to explore topics of interest. Therefore, out of the list of prospective ideas, choose only those that are particularly interesting.
  • Step 3. Think about previous assignments and tasks from other classes to gain an idea of what you will be exploring. This step is helpful for students who find it difficult to develop a research topic. Additionally, looking through news websites dedicated to a specific subject can help in choosing a relevant question.
  • Step 4. Narrow the scope of the question by identifying particular aspects that should be explored. For example, consider the topic “Student research conducted by using various online resources is more effective for enhancing analytical skills.” Adding specific factors helps the student to better understand the issue in question and illuminates unnecessary general information that might obstruct the main idea. That said, it is crucial to ensure that enough information can be found to support the research idea.


Overall, while students may encounter different approaches to conducting research, depending on the professor, the information described above presents a general guide that can help in developing a topic. It is vital to ensure that the student will find the information to be investigated engaging. Additionally, it is critical to present multiple viewpoints on the subject. Thus, an issue that other scholars have discussed should be chosen to ensure that relevant information can be found.

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