Selection of a perfect research topic has always been intriguing. Students, at one stage or the other, during their academic career, have to cope with with the challenge. The ability to develop a good research topic is an important skill. A meticulously chosen topic is the first step towards a successful research project. The role of supervisor, in the entire scheme of things, cannot be overlooked.
In the absence of a proper supervision, dearth of erudite guidance and lack of formal mentoring, the scholars often find it hard to negotiate with this thorny issue. Resultantly, a great deal of research scholars fail to complete their research work within the stipulated period of time and ultimately, a bigger chunk of them, leave their MPhil and Ph.D. studies, halfway, incomplete.
The crux of this blog post is to help out those students who normally feel bewildered while going through the process of research work as a partial requirement of their degree program or for an independent study or for writing an article for a quality research journal.
Moreover, efforts have been made here to enable the scholars to choose an exciting research topic, sail smoothly through the completion of their research project and avoid embarrassment at a belated stage while pursuing their research work.
As a prerequisite for MPhil and Ph.D studies, research scholars are required to complete a certain credit of research work as a minimum benchmark set by the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan. For research work, the scholars have to choose a research topic that is researchable, as well as, fascinating at the same time. However, ironically, they do not make selection of a good research topic and resultantly, they face numerous problems during the course of their research work. There are scores of factors responsible for this deplorable state of affairs. Nevertheless, proper attention is not being paid to address these issues.
Importance of selecting an interesting research topic
Selection of a suitable topic is vitally important for any research study. The topic, in essence, set the direction of the entire research work. With a perfect research topic, the research scholar moves on very quickly with the intended research work and hence, the research endeavor becomes an enjoyable experience. On the other hand, with a wretched, uninteresting and boring research topic, the research journey gets bumpy and ultimately he/she faces numerous hassles in the process. If you succeed in choosing an absorbing research topic, I believe, half of your research proposal is done and when your proposal is done, seventy percent of your research work is done.
Best practices for choosing a good research topic
While pursuing higher studies, in the technologically advanced countries, the research scholars are required to submit a formal research proposal to a Professor even before applying for admission to any standard university. Once the Professor accepts the research synopsis then the process of admission in the university is formally initiated. Hence, even before applying for admission in a foreign university, the scholar is supposed to have a fair amount of idea about his proposed research area and the manner in which he/she will go about.
Practices in our universities
While pursuing higher studies in some top-ranking universities in Pakistan, the research scholars are required to liaise with a proposed supervisor, in the concerned university and get their research proposal accepted and subsequently apply for admission. However, this is not a common practice, uniformly in-vogue in the universities in the country. The submission of a formal research synopsis is not a mandatory requirement in many universities and wherever this is an essential requirement, it is loosely implemented in letter and spirit. Hence, the scholars are enrolled in the MPhil/ Ph.D. programs with virtually limited understanding of the proposed research area and the manner in which they will pursue it and hence, they face multiple challenges while choosing a good research topic when they finally move on to the stage of their research work.
Challenges faced by the researchers while choosing a good research topic
There are, in fact, a host of challenges confronted by the research scholars while choosing a good research topic. Many scholars, intrinsically, do not understand how cumbersome, it is, to select a research topic in the first place. There is no effective system of counseling available at their disposal to guide the scholars during the process. At the undergraduate level, generally, the students are not exposed to the rigorous practice of selecting a good research topic. To me, finding a research topic is more importantly about finding gaps in the existing body of knowledge which the scholars are enthusiastic about filling-up. Nonetheless, much of the students’ mass hardly understand this impotant point.
Secondly, finding gaps in the existing body of knowledge is not always an easy job. This does not come by chance, merely due to a favorable combination of circumstances and without developing a deeper understanding of the existing body of knowledge. Indeed, these gaps are required to be substantiated with sufficient evidence from the available literature. Hence, a great deal of hard work and extensive reading are involved in it and the scholars, generally, do not digest this important point too.
Another important challenge is the time constraint. The MPhil and Ph.D. level students, for all practical purposes, used to be not full-time professional scholars, in this part of the world. They, generally, do not have much time to pursue their research work, wholeheartedly and diligently. Most of them are employed, whole time or part-time, and this is why, they prefer to have their classes for the coursework in the Evening. Apart from this, they have diverse socio-cultural roles to play in the closely-netted joint family system.
In such a scenario, when, they finally finish, somehow, with their course-work, they, all of a sudden, find themselves, at the doorsill of their research work. And hence, they have no idea how to select a topic and how to proceed with their research work. I personally understand their agony. They, literally, move from pillar to post for selection of a topic. In the process, they select a research topic, blindly, without doing all the hard work and extensive reading.
Resultantly, they come up with a topic, where there is no gap to fill, and if there is any gap, there is no evidence available to substantiate the claim. At this critical stage, they have no other option but to proceed with the given topic and at the end of the day, they have to cut a sorry figure.
The next blog post has been written to help such scholars to identify and overcome such challenges.
In the blog post, how to select a fascinating research topic? important guidance has been provided for the novice research scholars to help them in selecting an interesting research topic.
I am grateful to Muhammad Naveed Iqbal for his candid input in the instant blog post.