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Biology: Choosing a Research Topic

Create a Concept Map

Ways to Help Decide a Topic for Research

KEEP IN MIND: It's always easier to write about a topic that interests you in some way.

1. Write down one or two specific topics of interest to you in your discipline (e.g. in P.T., Nursing, O.T., Athletic Training, Mental Health, etc.).


  • In medicine, there may be discrepancies about the best practices for reducing X condition in a certain type of patients. (E.g. pneumonia in patients with Y disease or health condition).
  • Obesity is a national problem, particularly among children of various ethnic/racial backgrounds. You may be interested in learning the best preventive interventions for a particular population to reduce the prevalence of obesity among children of that group.
  • A particular type of musculoskeletal injury may be common in athletes in X sport. You are interested in the most effective rehabilitation methods for that type of injury, or a comparison of two methods.
  • Are you interested in school social work? Examine the differing roles of a school social worker in rural and urban settings, or in primary vs. secondary schools.

2. If you have not been working in the health care field yet, perhaps there’s a disease or condition that interests you, through friends, family or personal experience. Or, is there a disease in your heredity and you are interested in the risk factors for that condition/disease and what primary prevention methods could be employed to reduce the risk of developing it? Or, you are interested in the best secondary or tertiary prevention for that condition?

3. Perhaps there is a particular health issue that interests you and that drew you to enter the profession for which you are studying.

4. There may be recent news articles about health issues that interest you, related to your hometown or in Florida. FloridaCharts from the Florida Dept. of Health provides an informative statistical picture of the health status of Floridians.

5. Browse the table of contents of the publication Nation's Health, found in the FAMU Library's eJournals for ideas.

6. Review topics covered in textbooks of other courses you are currently taking.

7. Is there a particular aspect or problem within health care management that interests you?

8. You can also combine interests: Is there a particular racial or ethnic group that you want to learn more about? What are some of the socio-economic challenges that they face in this country? Are there health disparities between them in their access to health services compared to mainstream America? 

9. Sometimes controversial issues can be interesting to explore. For instance, is medical marijuana a valid treatment for anxiety disorders? Are there legitimate reasons to consider the legalization of currently illegal narcotics?  What are the legal implications of cloning human beings?

Once you have jotted down a few topics, conduct a preliminary literature search in a database: either CINAHL or Cambridge Journals. Alternatively, look in the FAMU Library's catalog for a book on your subject. Look for research that has been done. Then begin to narrow your topic to be more specific: for example, to a particular condition among a certain population or setting. CHOOSE a topic that interests you!

The best source for specific research topics? Recent research studies, because a good research article identifies at the end the implications or recommendations for future research on the topic.

The Evolving Process of Picking Your Research

KEEP IN MIND: Research topics aren't set in stone and choosing a research topic isn't always a straightforward process. As you begin to look for articles on your initial topic, your research idea may evolve along a new path. That's okay! It's all part of the research process.

Watch this nifty (and helpful) little library video from NSCU on the process of picking your research topic:

Picking Your Topic IS Research!

Narrowing Your Topic

After you conduct a review on your topic, you should discover what is already known and what research questions remain regarding your topic.  Your research question will most likely derive from the recent literature. What remains to be known and studied about your issue? Which 'implications for future research' were stated in the articles you found?

Health topic Too broad Too narrow Just Right
Rehabilitation for brain injuries X    
Mirror therapy for brain-injured or stroke patients with partial paralysis     X
Health benefits of whole grains in one’s diet     X
What are the causes of sprains in athletes? X    
What are the best treatments for itching (pruritus) in hospitalized patients? X    
Health needs of elderly residents in Charlotte County after Hurricane Charley in 2004     X
Does exercise improve mental health? X    
Pet therapy with a dog for an autistic child, age 5   X  


Research topic Sample refined research question
Rehabilitation for brain injuries Is mirror therapy effective for brain-injured or stroke patients with partial paralysis or gait disorders?
Health benefits of whole grains in one’s diet Are whole grain cereals preventative for cardiovascular disease?
What are the causes of sprains in athletes? What are common risk factors for ankle sprains in adult athletes?
What are the best treatments for itching (pruritus) in hospitalized patients? Comparison of two or more topical agents for effectiveness in reducing Pruriceptive pruritis
Health needs of elderly residents in Charlotte County after Hurricane Charley in 2004 What are the most prevalent post-hurricane health needs of elderly Florida residents with chronic health conditions?
Does exercise improve mental health? Does an outdoor physical activity program improve the m.h. status of adults with clinical depression?
Pet therapy with a dog for a 5 year-old autistic child Does pet therapy provide benefits in social interaction and learning in children on the autistic disorder spectrum?