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The Research Process

Quick Tip

The Research Process is a nonlinear process, meaning you may have to revisit steps once or twice during your research to get the best results.

If you are having trouble defining your topic, you might benefit from looking into several topics before choosing or narrowing down your scope for one.

Gathering background information from reference sources on a broader idea, subject, etc. may spark your curiosity or interest to further explore it.

Choose a Topic

The first step in defining your research topic is to review your assignment.

  • Are there any specific guidelines to follow?
  • What are some of the current trends or issues in this area? 

To find a topic of interest to you, you may want to consult:

  • Course materials (Textbook, handouts, etc.)
  • Instructor and/or peers
  • Personal interests
  • Web sites

BE CURIOUS! Whatever topic you decide to focus on should be something your excited to learn more about.

Narrow Your Topic

Be sure that your topic is of an appropriate size for your assignment. 

You could write a whole book on the cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), so narrowing your topic will help you help keep your research and writing manageable. 

Any easy way to narrow your topic is to ask yourself some questions:

What? Think about the topic from different viewpoints (historically, socially, medically, legally, ethically, etc.) Do you want to focus on the history of CBT or on the effectiveness of CBT?

Who? Think about individuals but also groups of people or population. Do you want to focus on CBT's use with children? With adolescents? 

Where? Think about location, environment, and setting. Do you want to look at how it's been used in group therapy? In schools? In the United States? 

When? Think about time period and/or after a specific event or milestone. Do you want to explore using CBT after a patient has a experienced trauma? Or do you want to explore the use of CBT in the last ten years?


Construct a Research Question

Once you've narrowed your topic by answering some of the questions above, it's good to formulate a research question to help guide your research and possibly generate a thesis statement.

  1. Start by using "how," "what," or "why."
  2. Incorporate the limiters (population, location, time, etc.) you outlined when narrowing your topic.

Some examples:

   How effective is the use of cognitive behavioral therapy to treat depression in group therapy with adults?

   What ethical implications might arise when using cognitive behavior therapy as a guidance counselor for elementary school children?

   Why has cognitive behavioral therapy become the preferred method for treating Iraq veterans with PTSD over psychotherapy?