Narrowing down a research topic
Selecting a topic (handout): Move from an everyday problem that you would like to investigate (stage 1) to defining a specific subject, perspective, and vantage point that defines your research topic (stage 2). The final stage (stage 3) is to remove yourself from the personal domain of refining the topic of interest to the formal world of academia. In this final stage, switch from everyday language to technical terminology used in a particular academic discipline (e.g., applied linguistics). See list of possible research topics in applied linguistics below as a guide. Source: The Literature Review
Merge your topic with an area of linguistic focus: a) individual skills (i.e., reading, writing, listening, speaking), b) grammar, c) vocabulary, d) or some combination of the aforementioned (e.g., reading and writing, listening and speaking, speaking and vocabulary, etc.).
Moving from a topic to questions (Booth, Colomb, & Williams, 2008Brainstorm a set of questions from a variety of perspectives, beginning with asking who, what, when, where, but focusing on how, and why. Then continue brainstorming through the following types of questions:
- Topic history
- Ask questions about developmental context. How has this problem, technique, method, material, etc. changed over the years? Why has it changed over the years? etc.
- Structure and composition
- How does your topic relate to a bigger context? What is the composition of your topic? How do the pieces fit together?
- How can your topic be grouped together? How does your topic compare and contrast with topics within the same or similar category.
- Positive to negative questions
- Turn positive questions to negative questions. Why have wikis not become a prevalent web tool in today's language classroom?
- What if... questions
- What if all language teachers had to use wikis with their learners?
- Questions from sources
- Search primary research articles and find questions for further research. Or tailor research questions from primary research articles to local research topic interests. Find questions from outside sources that allow you to fill the literature gap so that what you investigate adds to the body of knowledge that currently makes up the field.
Moving from questions to a problemTo move a question to its significance, try using the following prompts:
- I wish to learn more about...(a topic).
- I am studying teachers' beliefs about formative assessments and related teaching techniques.
- I am working on why students are reluctant to speak English in class.
- I am trying to learn about teaching covert grammar and how students feel about different related teaching techniques.
- Example: I wish to learn more about _________ because I want to find out who/what/when/where/whether/why/how _________.
- I am studying teachers' beliefs about formative assessment because I want to find out how students feel about related teaching techniques.
- I am working on why students are reluctant to speak English in class because I want to find out what authentic materials I might use to promote better interaction among students.
Your topic must be interesting to you, the researcher, but must also be interesting to others in the field. Add to your topic and indirect question the significance of your research.
- Example: I wish to learn more about __________ because I want to find out who/what/when/where/whether/why/how _________ in order to __________.
- I am studying teachers' beliefs about formative assessment because I want to find out how students feel about related teaching techniques in order to demonstrate the role of formative assessment in the English language classroom.
- I am working on why students are reluctant to speak English in class because I want to find out what authentic materials I might use to promote better interaction among students in order to place less emphasis on the coursebook as a syllabus.
Moving from questions to a problem
Reflect on your topic-to-question statement:
- Topic: I wish to learn more about...
- Question: because I want to find out what/why/how etc....
- Significance: (Reflect on the reader's point of view.): in order to...
- Practical problem: Students are afraid to speak in class.
- Research problem: How can I provide feedback to students in such a way that they feel more confident to speak English with their peers?
- Research solution: Provide individual feedback when requested during the task, and group feedback once the task has been completed.
- Practical solution: Avoid overcorrection or providing too much feedback to students.
- (topic) I am studying teacher feedback (question #1 & condition) because I want to find out when giving feedback allows students to feel more confident when speaking L2 with their peers (significance, question #2, & cost or consequence ) in order to answer the bigger question of how teacher intervention can either promote or discourage student's oral production in class.
Example: Knowing when to give feedback that allows students to feel more confident when speaking with their peers (question #1 or condition) addresses the bigger question of how teacher intervention can either promote or discourage student's oral production in class (question #2 or cost/consequence).
Here are additional tips when searching for a problem to research:
- Ask teachers, students, administrators, and other experts in the field about problems they face related to teaching and learning an additional language.
- Search primary research articles for related problems to find relevant examples.
- Begin with a problem at the onset of your research, but understand that research problems may morph or emerge in different forms as one conducts a study.
Unit of AnalysisLesson 1-5 Units of analysis
Possible Research Topics in Applied Linguistics
- Chomsky's Universal Grammar
- Bilingual education
- Classroom discourse
- Corpus linguistics
- Cognitive linguistics
- Discourse analysis
- Language exchanges
- English for Academic Purposes
- English for Specific Purposes
- Generative grammar
- Chomsky's Universal Grammar
- Krashen's monitor model
- Language and culture
- Language and Gender
- Language and Identity
- Language Emergence as a complex adaptive system
- Language learning and technology
- Language teacher education
- Professional development or professional learning among (English language), in-service educators
- Professional development or professional learning among (English language), pre-service educators
- Language testing
- Formative assessment in the language classroom
- Formative vs. summative assessment in the language classroom
- Dynamic assessment in the language classroom
- Language exchanges
- Task-based learning
- Problem-based learning
- Performance-based learning
- Linguistic Imperialism
- Phonetics and phonology
- Systemic functional linguistics
- Sociocultural theories
- The Research Question
- Moving from a top of interest to a research question
- Choosing and refining topics
- Writing a thesis statement
- Select a topic.
Search the literature.
- Develop an argument.
- Survey the literature.
- Critique the literature.
- Write the review.
ReferenceeBooth, W., Colomb, G., & Williams, J. (2008). The craft of research. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.
Machi, L. & McEvoy, B. (2009). The literature review: Six steps to success. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.