Planning your Research

In many ways, the planning phase of the research process is the most important. The ground work you do here will set the stage for the rest of the project. Take your time as you think through your topic and how researchers and other authors might talk about and explore your subject area.

Let your curiosity lead you.

Ask yourself:

  • What class discussions have I found most interesting?   
  • What are the major issues, problems, or trends in this industry today?  
  • Have I had related personal experiences that were significant or meaningful?  
  • What topics would advance my career goals after I complete my program?

Start a concept map to help you think about potential topics and subtopics related to your course. Keep track of your ideas in a notebook.

Addiction to smoking

What do you want to know about your topic? Open-ended questions help you focus your research. Try questions like:

  • How does __ impact __?
  • What attitudes do __ have towards __?
  • What strategies can help reduce/improve __ among __?

Consider narrowing your question by one of these criteria:

  • Population (age, gender, culture, other?)
  • Geography (Ontario, Canada, other?)
  • Time frame (this year, last 5 years?)

Watch What makes a good research topic? (3:28).

What are the risk factors for addiction to smoking among teenagers?

Your search will be based on the keywords you choose. Keywords describe the main concepts you are looking for. The keywords from our example are:

  1. risk factors
  2. smoking
  3. teenagers

Consider alternative or related keywords that authors writing about your topic might use:

Instead of:

Authors might use:

risk factors

peer pressure, culture, genetics (ie. examples of "risk factors")


cigarettes, vaping, tobacco


adolescents, youth

Use a combination of these keywords to search your topic.

(smoking OR vaping) AND (adolescent OR youth OR teen) AND "risk factors"


Here's a few tips to keep in mind. Watch video.

You Try!

Use these tools to get you started on defining your topic and choosing your keywords.

Learn More

Chat with Us if you have any questions about planning your research.