Formulating a research topic in the social sciences

This advice is intended primarily for the undergraduate student who needs to develop a paper topic in the social sciences, especially psychology and sociology.

Students often start with a broad core topic of interest that is much too big for the usual undergraduate term paper.

Here are some limits you can think about applying to your core topic to make it a more manageable paper to write:

  • social context - [your core topic] in workplace, K-12 or higher ed, interpersonal/peer relationships, intimate relationships, family relationships
  • geographical context - Canada? Canada+US only? Western English-speaking democracies? cross-cultural comparison?
  • age-related context - among a certain labelled generation (e.g. "Gen Z")? Elderly people? Young adults?
  • gender context - look specifically at males, females, other identity groups, possibly cross-comparison?
  • time period (not to be confused with limiting by publication date): In the last 5-10 years? Change over the last several decades?

For more advice about choosing a topic and defining its scope, see:

"I Have No Idea What To Write About"  and "How Do I Know If This Is A Good Topic?" in our Start Your Research Here Guide

October 2023 update: if you have a ChatGPT account, you may want to try the following two prompts and see if it gives you any useful ideas:

First, "What search terms should we use for my research question '[your question here]'"

Then,  "Can you help me narrow this topic?"

Or you can just do the second one, and include your topic in the prompt, eg:

"Can you help narrow down this topic for a small lower undergraduate term paper: [describe your topic here]"

You are always welcome to consult with your librarian on both of these, of course!