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PSY424/436 Research guide: Plan Your Topic

Planning your own thesis topic

It can be challenging to develop your own thesis topic. It must be narrow and focused enough to be interesting, yet broad enough to find adequate information. When developing your topic, you will need to keep the following things in mind:

  • brainstorm for ideas
  • focus your topic
  • develop your thesis statement
  • develop keywords

Adopted from University of Michigan-Flint. (2017). How to select a research topic.  Retrieved from

Brainstorming for ideas

Start thinking about something that genuinely interests you in Psychology. Conduct a general background search for information on an area of interest through websites, books or the media. This will help you to become familiar with the research history in the area related to your topic.

It is also helpful, when considering a topic, to think of the 5 W questions: who, what, when, where and why:

WHY would you choose the topic?  What interests you about it?  Do you have an opinion about the issues involved?
WHO are the information gatekeepers on this topic?  Who might publish information about it?  Who is affected by the topic?  Do you know of organizations or institutions affiliated with the topic?
WHAT are the major questions for this topic?  Is there a debate about the topic?  Are there a range of issues and viewpoints to consider?
WHERE is your topic important: at the local, national or international level?  Are there specific places affected by the topic?
WHEN is/was your topic important?  Is it a current event or an historical issue?  Do you want to compare your topic by time periods?

Adopted from MIT Libraries. Selecting a research topic.   Retrieved from

Focus your topic

A topic will be very difficult to research if it is too broad or narrow. Some common ways to limit a topic are by geographical location, time frame, aspect or sub-area or population group.

Similarly, a topic may be too difficult to research if it is too locally confined or too recent for anything substantive to have been written. Think of related ideas, by doing some more background reading or review the keywords you are using. You may not be finding enough information because you are using less common words or too much jargon. Thesaurus can help to find alternative keywords.

Developing a mind map may also be a helpful way to show links and relationships between ideas and help to focus your research.

Adopted from University of Michigan-Flint. (2017). How to select a research topic.  Retrieved from

develop your thesis or research statement

Write your topic as a thesis statement. This may be the answer to your research question and/or a way to clearly state the purpose of your research. Your thesis statement will usually be one or two sentences that states precisely what is to be answered, proven, or what you will inform your audience about your topic.

Writing an effective research question

A research question needs to be based on a workable research topic and be focused and answerable

Gather background Information

Background information can help you prepare for research by explaining the language or jargon, and issues related to your topic, especially when you're investigating a field that's unfamiliar to you. Background information will also help you to answer the Who, What, Where and When of your topic.

Reference resources, including dictionaries and encyclopedias; books and media are a great place to start searching for background information.  Open the Psychology Library Resource Guide to look at the various types of information resources available.

Ethics and other considerations

In developing your research proposal you need to explicitly consider the ethical and safety implications.  If your proposed course of research raises ethical or safety issues then you may need to obtain formal ethical and or safety clearances before undertaking your research.

The University has several committees through which ethics and safety related issues are approved see Charles Sturt University's Research Ethics & Safety webpage for more information.

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