A good research topic has the following qualities:
- It is researchable: That means it is a subject where the research instruments can be easily formulated and the study population sampled. The objectives that will be formulated based on the topic are measurable.
- It captivates the interest of the researcher: The topic selected should be one that the researcher has an interest in.
- It makes a contribution to knowledge: A good research topic is one in which the researcher is aware that the findings of the study will contribute to the body of knowledge.
- It is provocative: It is open to varied views and interpretations.
- It is clear and focused: The topic is not vague or alien to the researcher.
Selecting a topic in research is essential and requires a lot of care. This is because the topic selected has a lot of influence on the success of the project/study. There are various challenges encountered in topic selection, and some have resulted in researchers abandoning the project halfway, or the project taking longer to be completed than anticipated. The following are some of the problems encountered in topic selection.
A researcher may select a research area that is too wide and fail to limit the scope. This occurs due to underestimating the dimension of the topic. For example, The effects of drought. This topic may be problematic since the effects of drought and its intensity varies by region and gender. The impact of drought in Turkana may not be similar to its impact in Makueni. It is also vague since the effect of drought on education may be different from its effect on politics. A topic such as Truancy in schools may also be problematic unless the scope is clearly specified. This topic may be too wide because the causes and effects of truancy on education vary by gender and region. Truancy also has diverse effects on school accessibility, retention and academic performance. It maybe impossible for this researcher to conduct an in-depth study. To avoid selecting a topic that is too wide, the researcher should be very clear and focused on what they want to research. If it is issues related to drought or truancy, then they have to be very certain on what they want to investigate in relation to drought or truancy and make that the focus of the study.
At times a researcher may choose a topic that is too complex for research at the level of the student. This complexity is based on the fact that some of the research may require large samples. For example a study on Consumer reaction to price increases may require a large population sample. A study on The mushrooming of churches in Kenya is complex in that it requires clear definition of the term “mushrooming.” A single researcher cannot usually undertake this type of research. It may require different approaches and a lot of capital besides expertise. This topic may present the researcher with problems particularly during data collection and analysis.
c) Poor timing
Most research works have a limited time span for which data should be collected and presented. Failure to adhere to this may lead to disqualifications or penalties. Some topics, for example, Effects of free primary education over a five year period may not be feasible for a master’s programme. This is mainly because these programmes usually cover a span of two years. If for some reasons, gathering information will take many months or even years, then the topic may not be suitable, particularly if the researcher has a specific deadline to meet.
d) Limited accessibility to materials and respondents
A particular topic may prove unsuitable simply because there is no ready accessibility to the requisite source materials. It is common for some source materials not to be made available for some years after an event or during the lifetime of an individual. In Kenya, for example, materials on tribal clashes that occurred in 1992 are not easily available. Other materials may not be available in libraries. Some research works have been delayed or changed due to the problem of unavailability of subjects. For example, a study based on Aids patients at Kenyatta National Hospital may not be easy as accessibility to respondents may be limited. The patients may also feel an invasion of privacy and refuse to respond.
Topic selection is vital in proposal writing as it contributes to the success of the research. The researcher should therefore ensure that he/she is certain about the topic to be researched, is interested in the topic and the required materials and resources are available.