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Choosing a research topic is the most difficult part of doing research. Most higher degree students already have in mind what they want to do before they apply their postgraduate program. However, have you ever asked yourselves the following questions?

Am I interested in this topic?
Is the subject too broad? or too narrow?
Are there anyone working on a similar topic before?
Does the Library have sufficient resources to support my research?

Bearing in mind that doing research is a very lonely journey, try to select a topic that you are interested in because you have to spend two to three years and a lot of effort on it. You will pay attention to the scope of your research topic. Avoid topics that are too broad as you may not be able to manage and focus clearly on the important issues. If the topic is too narrow, you may not have sufficient and relevant range of source materials to support your writing.

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A common problem is that the chosen topic appears too broad and you must refine it to a reasonable size. Here is an example of refining a research topic.

Research topic: Costume in China

1. Formate your topic into questions.

costume history? evolution? which dynasty?
which region?
minority costume?
fabric? fashion? textile arts?
clothing production?
clothes and accessories?

2. Break down the topics into main concepts and select the one which you like to work on.

eg. Costume history: Qing dynasty; imperial and official dress; sign and symbols; textile arts...

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In order to introduce yourself a good research topic, do some preliminary reading on the topic in which you are interested. Read a few academic articles that define and discuss the major issues. Try to understand the key concepts and theories. Take note of distinctive and unique words used to describe the topic. These will be the keywords you can use to search for additional information in other sources. Search the dissertation abstracts and bibliographies to find out what has been done by others. Lastly, conduct library catalogues and journal databases searches to see if the Library has sufficient resources to support your research.

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Write down the author, title, and publisher, date of publication, page numbers and your comments for every source you consult. You will need this information when you compile your bibliography. This practice will save you a lot of time in the future. Endnote is a useful software to assist you building an electronic bibliographic library. Please find time to attend the Endnote class conducted by the Library.

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References:

Research strategies (http://www.lib.unimelb.edu.au/postgrad/researchstrategies.html)
Dowing, David & B. Dowling. Contemporary Asia: a research guide
Guide to library research (http://www.lib.duke.edu/libguide/home.htm)

 

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