How to do your research project

Generating ideas

when you've finished this page, you will be able to...

The chances are you'll be allowed to have some input into your research topic, and in some cases you will be allowed to choose the title of your dissertation or project. If you're really struggling for inspiration, find out if you can look at projects completed by previous students. This will give you an insight into what can be achieved, and the sort of things researched by students on your course.

Decide on a dissertation topic only after careful consultation with your supervisor - they'll be able to offer guidance on what's practical, novel and interesting.

There are a number of issues to bear in mind when developing a research idea, including...

Time: Can you realistically research the topic in the time available? If not, you may need to narrow your research topic and make your title more specific.

Previous research: There is no point in researching something that is common knowledge unless you truly believe that you can add something unique. Equally, planning to research something completely new may be too ambitious.

Cost: Will you incur any financial costs by carrying out your research? If so, can you afford it?

Relevance: Will anyone else be interested in your research? Will your research have any future implications? If not, is there any point in researching in this area?

Interest: Will your topic keep you interested? This will be important if you're to stay motivated and keen.

Ethics: Is your research ethical? This is particularly an issue if your research involves people or animals. You'll need to discuss any potential ethical issues with your supervisor.

Activity: brainstorm ideas for your research project topic - 30 minutes

You'll need help from your supervisor to decide on a dissertation or project topic; however, you can make a start by thinking about the areas of your subject that most interest you. Your supervisor will expect you to have generated some ideas for yourself.

1. In the centre of a blank piece of paper, write my dissertation or my research project.

2. Around this central phrase, write down the aspects of your subject which interest you the most; for example, if you're a zoology student, you might be interested in animal behaviour, genetics, physiology etc...

3. For each of these areas of interest, write down anything specific that you find interesting; for example, under animal behaviour you might be interested in animal group dynamics.

4. Once you have identified potential topics, think about questions that are raised by your areas of interest; for example, how do wild baboon colony dynamics compare to captive baboon colony dynamics?

5. Arrange to meet your supervisor to discuss potential titles and decide on the most suitable dissertation topic.

Recommended Further Reading

Bear in mind that your title could evolve during your project as you discover new opportunities and limitations. This is fine, you will just need to check with your supervisor and update your project plan accordingly.

Your research project is probably the longest piece of work you've ever done, and if you're going to fit everything in you'll need to get organised. On the next page, we look at planning a project timetable.

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