The term “topic” refers to subject, issue or area under discussion. The topic (subject) one selects to research is essential in the success of the research project. This is mainly because one’s interest in the topic will sustain the research. If a researcher is interested in a particular area, he/she will enjoy reading materials related to that subject, and will put time and effort into the work. The researcher will be keen on collecting the required data, analyzing it and finding out the results. All research requires painstaking thought, writing, and reading before the proposal/thesis is finalized. If the researcher is interested in the topic, this will be an exciting venture. It is therefore imperative that a researcher selects a topic that interests him/her. The following are some of the steps that should be followed in topic selection.
a) Identify what interests or puzzles one in an area of study
There are many issues in life that may puzzle or interest a researcher. These may be social,, economic, health, political or cultural issues. However, it is important to identify a puzzling aspect in one’s area of study. This not only enables the researcher to go in-depth in one’s professional area, but also to defend the researched work with authority.
For example, in identifying an area of study, a student in the department of Sociology may be puzzled as to why people still consume illicit brews despite the dangers experienced and the warnings given by the government. A student in the department of Curriculum Development may be puzzled as to why, despite the reduction of examinable subjects at the primary level, pupils are still overworked. A doctor may be puzzled as to why, despite awareness creation on malaria prevention and the provisions of mosquito nets to a certain district, malaria prevalence was still high. A student in the department of Religious Studies may be puzzled at the mushrooming of churches in Kenya. An educationist may be puzzled about free primary education and school accessibility, retention and performance. These are fertile grounds in which students can identify research topics.
b) Identify keywords for the topic
The researcher should then zero down to the real aspect puzzling him/her and express it in specific keywords. These keywords can include words representing the issue that has puzzled the researcher. For example if the researcher is puzzled about illicit brews, the keywords may be increase of illicit brews. The keywords for the student in Curriculum Development department may be curriculum reduction verses student overwork. The doctor’s keywords may be awareness creation verses malaria prevalence. For the student in education, the keywords may be free primary education, school accessibility, retention and performance. The researcher should think of what to concentrate on based on these words.
After identifying the keywords the researcher wants to concentrate on, he/she has to define the topic. Defining the topic involves analyzing selected keywords keenly. Out of these keywords there are a number of topics that can be studied. For example on illicit brews, the researcher has to decide on what to concentrate on, whether it is causes and effects or the costs. A researcher analyzing student overwork may study the causes and effects or analyze the implementation aspect. At this point, the researcher has to filter and come up with the topic to be studied. For example, on the issue of free primary education, the researcher may decide to concentrate on free primary education and student accessibility, or free primary education and student retention, or free primary education and learners’ performance or all of the above, thus analyzing free primary education and school accessibility, retention and performance. The researcher has to identify specifically what he/she wants to concentrate on. This enables the study to be focused.
d) Formulate the topic
After identifying and defining the topic, the researcher should formulate it. For example the prevalence of illicit brews in Kenya. The researcher should search for articles and other materials relevant to the research topic. This information will assist the researcher develop clarity over the topic selected. This will also assist the researcher in the formulation of the research problem later on. The researcher should take notes, paraphrase and summarize what has been read on relevant materials. This will be included in the literature review. Relevant information related to the selected topic can be found in a library or the Internet.