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Analysing the Topic

  1. Brainstorm the topic - you might be surprised at how much you actually know about it already. Ask questions like who, what, why, where, when, how. You may find it useful to make a mind or concept map of your topic.
  2. From your brainstorm, identify some keywords or concepts to describe your topic.
  3. Think of some synonyms (words that are similar) for your keywords.
  4. Ask yourself - do I need to broaden/narrow down my topic?

What sort of topic you choose will depend on the kind of project you are carrying out. An appropriate topic for a 2000-word essay will not be appropriate for a postgraduate thesis.

You will need to be prepared to revise your topic in the light of your findings. Perhaps the question is too big to be covered within the scope of your project. Or perhaps someone else has already written about it, leaving nothing for you to add. Or perhaps so little work has been done that there is not enough for you to build on. Depending on what you find you may have to broaden the scope of your topic, narrow its scope, or shift to another topic altogether.

Your topic should be phrased as a question, or series of questions, to which you are trying to find the answer. Say your topic is

television violence and children

This should be rephrased as

what effect does television violence have on children’s behaviour?

Now break your topic down into keywords. In this example the keywords are

effect, television, violence, children, behaviour

Using these keywords will help to focus your search for relevant material. But if you use only these keywords you may miss out on large amounts of material that uses different terms. You need to think of any alternative terms that writers on the topic may have used, and include those in your search as well. For more information on choosing keywords, look at Creating a Concept Map.

Recommended Reading

  • Buzan, T. (2000). The mind map book. Millennium ed., rev. ed. London : BBC.
    • Main Library, Call Number: 153.1 BUZ
  • Gawith, G. (2002). Research success. Auckland, N.Z.: ESA Publications.
    • Main Library, Call Number 001.42 GAW
    • Waitākere Library, Call number 001.42 GAW

There are many other useful books on these topics. Search our catalogue or ask us for help to find them.