Ideas for finding good research topics for your religion research paper

The Sainsbury Research Centre Library

The Sainsbury Research Centre Library

Planning your next religion research paper is as easy as typing religion into Google and waiting for it to spit out some brilliant suggestion, right? Well not exactly. There is an art, and no small amount of skill, to tracking down the best online sources for your paper. The key is to craft keyword phrases that help narrow your search, while looking for the best possible references—this applies whether you are writing a paper on a religious topic or on any other subject. Want to learn more about ideas for finding good research topics in the religion field? Read on.

How to explore information online

One of the best ways to find good research topic ideas is by conducting good keyword searches. This involves using the specific tools a site, such as Google or Questia, offer. For instance on Questia, you can search by keyword, author, title, subject or publisher to help narrow your efforts.

You can also refine your search by using quotation marks to indicate you want to focus on a specific term, or by using Boolean operators. These include “and,” “or” or “not” paired with your search term or terms. According to Questia’s tutorial on “Locate print and online sources using keywords” these are the functions of the Boolean operators:

  • AND limits a search and means you want sources having all your search words, in any order (crime AND punishment).
  • OR expands and looks for all the words. It means you want publications having any of your search words (crime OR punishment). Using OR will retrieve sources that contain only one of the search terms.
  • NOT limits a search. Include NOT before a keyword you don’t want; the results will include sources having the first word but not the second word (crime NOT punishment).

The tutorial also advises care with the use of “Not” because it will eliminate any publication that uses that specific word anywhere in the text, possibly eliminating many relevant results for your research.

It is important to keep a list of the keywords you have used in your search. This can help if you aren’t finding enough good sources, because you can use the list to think of synonyms or other phrases related to your subject matter you can search for online. On the flip side, if you feel you have too many results to sift through, you can narrow your search with the aforementioned Boolean operators.

Finding a research topic

But maybe you haven’t found that perfect research topic yet. No matter what discipline you are writing a paper for, the basics of finding topics are the same. On August 11, 2013, Laurence Borel gave advice on “How to find your academic research question” at Blog Till You Drop. During her own preparation for a research proposal she crafted some helpful suggestions for others:

  • Ask yourself, what area do you want to study?
  • What questions to you want to answer with your research paper?
  • Are those questions of an exploratory, explanatory or descriptive nature?
  • What are the critical issues in the topic area I am looking at?

She also suggests identifying the relevant “topic buckets” for your research as a means to determining the research materials that will be most relevant for your paper.

Places to search for religion topics

Are you stumped as to what area of religion you want to study? A good way to simulate your synapses and get the brain operating on all cylinders is by doing a little general exploration online about your area. One example for religion would be the Pew Research Center website which offers a specific topic page on “Religion and Society.” Questia’s online research library also offers a specific religion research topic page with subcategories that include ancient religions and the psychology of religion. Sites like these can help point you in the direction of an idea that you may be intrigued by and want to explore in more detail in your research.

Want to find even more information on finding religion research topics? Check out Questia—our complete library collection offers information on a range of topics. And don’t forget the tutorial on conducting research.

What do you think? How do you come up with ideas for finding good religion research topics? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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