Identify a Topic

Small Group Topic Ramble

One of the best strategies for discovering, identifying, and/or narrowing your topic is to take advantage of opportunities where to talk out loud to others about your ideas. Create this opportunity by scheduling a “meetup” with a couple of your peers. Try to keep the group intimate with roughly 3-4 people total. Choose a convivial and relaxed environment like a coffeehouse or student commons area.

Activity

    1. Begin your meet-up with 10-15 minutes of group “small talk.” Order your food and drinks. Chitchat about “what’s going on” (in class, in life, etc.).
    2. Now, take turns allowing everyone in the group to “talk through” his or her topic ideas. Consider recording the session so that later you can listen to and reflect on your own ramble as well as your peers’ responses.
    3. Consider setting a timer per speaker based on the total time you have available.
    4. If you are the one talking, just speak freely about what you are thinking, where you are in the process, what’s stumping you, etc. Treat this as a “topic ramble,” sort of like an oral freewrite.
    5. If you are listening, jot down notes about what the speaker is saying. Try to identify interesting tidbits, highlights, connections, questions, and any other ideas that come to mind as an audience to the speaker.
    6. Save 5-10 minutes to discuss each person’s “ramble.”
    7. Share-out: Post a snippet of the recording or a group pic to the comments thread.

Research Question/Statement

Creative Commons licensed image posted at Flickr by Leo Reynolds

Creative Commons licensed image posted at Flickr by Leo Reynolds

Activity

1. Use the following question and statement templates to help further define your research topic. Try out different template formats to help you discover the kind of question/argument you are attempting to address.

Experiment with several Research Question templates.

  • How does ___________________ affect __________________?
  • What is the result of _____________________?
  • What is the cause of _____________________?
  • What is the effect of _____________________?
  • When _____________ occurs, what happens to ____________?
  • What should be done about ___________________?

Try several of the Research Statement templates.

  • By examining _____________________, I will show _______________________.
  • Investigating how _____________ does _____________ reveals ________________.
  • Exploring _______________ is important because __________________________.
  • Using _____________ to analyze _______________, I will argue ________________.
  • By researching ________________, I will demonstrate ________________________.
  • ___________________ should be done to address/improve ____________________.

2. Share-out: Choose one of your questions or statements and post to the comments thread.

 

Defining Your Purpose

Creative Commons licensed image posted at Flickr by zeevveez

Creative Commons licensed image posted at Flickr by zeevveez

Activity

  1. What problem are you investigating? How have others addressed this problem?
  2. Does investigating this problem address a research “gap”?
  3. What research question do you answer?
  4. What purpose is served by investigating your topic?
  5. Why do you care about this topic? Why is it important to you?
  6. Who is your audience? Why do they care about your topic?
  7. Share-out: Snap a picture of your response to the above questions and post to the comments thread.

Using Questions to Focus Your Ideas

Creative Commons licensed image posted at Flickr by Thomas Galvez

Creative Commons licensed image posted at Flickr by Thomas Galvez

Activity

  1. Open a new document on your computer.
  2. Write down the topic in which you are currently interested.
  3. Generate 5-7 alternative or related words about the topic. Consider using a dictionary (or Merriam-Webster) and/or thesaurus to help.
  4. Ask lots questions about your topic–at least 25! Be sure to use all of the question words: who, what, when, why, where, and how.
  5. Pick two questions you are really interested in writing about and/or would fit the parameters of your assignment. Briefly discuss how/why these questions are a good fit.
  6. Pick two questions you know you don’t want to write about and/or would not be a good fit for your assignment. Briefly discuss how/why these questions are not a good fit.
  7. Share-out: Copy/paste or upload your writing to the comments thread.

Visualizing Focus on Your Ideas

Creative Commons licensed image posted at Flickr by rick

Creative Commons licensed image posted at Flickr by rick

This activity asks you to move away from words and into images to help you think further about the topics that interest you.

Activity

  1. Open a new document on your computer.
  2. Write down the topic in which you are currently interested.
  3. Generate 5-7 alternative or related words about the topic. Consider using a dictionary (or Merriam-Webster) and/or thesaurus to help.
  4. For every word, use a search engine filtered for image results to find at least two pictures.
  5. Find one image that makes you want to write about your topic.
  6. Find another image that makes you not want to write about your topic.
  7. In your document, type each word and include the image (or the URL/link) to each image.
  8. Next to the image, briefly write why you would or would not want to write about this topic based on the image.
  9. Share-out: Upload your document to the comments thread.

Photographic Connections

Creative Commons licensed image posted at Flickr by Leo Reynolds

Creative Commons licensed image posted at Flickr by Leo Reynolds

Activity

  1. Take a picture of something in your room. It can be anything–your favorite t-shirt, a poster, your laptop, a picture of another picture (whoooooa–Inception, man….), anything. Go wild.
  2. Upload that photo to your computer and place it in a document.
  3. Look at the writing assignment prompt your professor gave you. Write the main concept of the prompt beneath the photo you uploaded.
  4. Do a search online that combines the content of your photo with the main concept of the assignment prompt. For example, if you took a picture of your shoes and the main concept of your assignment prompt requires that you talk about social economics, you might search for “social economic status and shoes,” “shoes and social economics,” and “footwear and class stratification.” Notice with the last example we used synonyms for our words to possibly uncover some new insights.
  5. Find an article or website in your search that demonstrates a connection between your photo and your assignment prompt. This is a starting point for your research.
  6. Share-out: Post your image, main assignment prompt concept, and the best website URL you found in the comments thread. Format it as follows: [image] + [main assignment concept] = website URL.

Drilling down Your Topic: Mind Mapping

Creative Commons licensed image posted at Flickr by Patrick Bürgler

Creative Commons licensed image posted at Flickr by Patrick Bürgler

Creating a mind or cluster map of your topic(s) is a great way to help narrow your ideas while visualizing them in a nonlinear way. You can do this with paper and pen, on your computer, or via a web-based mind-mapping application (such as Popplet).

Activity

  1. Begin by writing your topic in the middle of the page and circling it.
  2. Now branch off that main circle and create additional circles of information that contain smaller topics within that larger field.
  3. From those smaller circles, make even smaller circles that indicate why you are interested in those topics.
  4. Don’t be afraid to draw lines connecting one circle to another. It’s ok if it’s messy! (Doodling is also allowed if it helps you generate ideas.)
  5. Take a look at the connections you’ve made and write a topic sentence about the connections between those topics.
  6. Share-out: Take a picture or screenshot of your mind map and post it to the comments thread.

Video of yourself thinking out loud about a topic

Creative Commons licensed image posted at Flickr by Leo Reynolds

Creative Commons licensed image posted at Flickr by Leo Reynolds

Some people work better by talking out their ideas for topics. For this activity, not only will you talk out your ideas, you’ll create a video of yourself doing so!

Activity

1. Create a short, 3-4 minute video based on one of the following ideas:

  • A video of yourself talking through your ideas about possible topics for your research.
  • A video of you having a conversation with someone else about possible topics for your research. It can be someone from your class, your roommate, your professor, your significant other, etc.

2. Share-out: Upload the video to your favorite video hosting site (Youtube, Vimeo, etc.) and share the link in the comments thread.

 

Relating Your Topic to the Goals and Purpose of Your Course/Assignment

Creative Commons licensed image posted at Flickr by Leo Reynolds

Creative Commons licensed image posted at Flickr by Leo Reynolds

This exercise assumes you have a topic in mind for the paper you need to write. (If you need help generating topic ideas, check out the “What Interests You” exercise.) Typically, you will need to make a connection between your topic and the objectives/purpose of the class for which you are composing the paper.

Activity

1. Look at the course description (on your syllabus) the professor has written about the class. In a nutshell, what is the course “about,” and what are the learning objectives?

2. Now, review your assignment prompt. What is the purpose of the assignment as relates to the goals of the course?

3. Next, it’s time to think about how your topic relates to the overarching purpose of the course as well as the goals of the assignment. For example, if you are interested in video games, and you are taking a sociology class focused on marriage, family, and relationships, you’d want to think about video games within that specific context, exploring, for example, how video games influences various relationship dynamics. Or, if you are taking a chemistry class and are interested in baking, you might think about how the chemical reactions between different ingredients affect the resulting food dish.

4. Freewrite for 5 minutes on what components of your topic somehow relate to the course. Do this with pen and paper or use your computer. Set a timer and write for 5 minutes straight. Don’t worry about what you write; just keep writing.

5. When you finish freewriting, look back over your freewrite and find one sentence that stands out to you and could be used to begin another freewrite. Use that sentence to begin a second 5-minute freewriting session.

6. Share-out: If you wrote by hand, take a picture of both of your freewrites and share them in the comments thread. Otherwise, upload your freewrite file.

What Interests You? Choosing a Topic of Your Choice that Fits Course Parameters

Creative Commons licensed image posted at Flickr by Leo Reynolds

Creative Commons licensed image posted at Flickr by Leo Reynolds

Activity

  1. What are your favorite websites and why?
  2. What is your ideal career, profession, vocation, or job?
  3. What are your favorite academic subjects?
  4. What sorts of hobbies interest you?
  5. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
  6. What civic/community clubs or activities are you involved in?
  7. Where in the world would you most like to travel?
  8. What sorts of political issues concern/interest you?
  9. What sorts of social issues concern/interest you?
  10. What current events concern/interest you.
  11. Share-out: Post your list to the comments thread, and share your list with a classmate.