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INST 4850: Contemporary Middle East: Political transformations, human rights and gender politics

This course is a reading intensive course on the modern Middle East, “the cradle of civilization,” located at the juncture of Africa, Asia and Europe. Designed primarily for advanced undergraduates students, it covers a wide time span. We will begin t

How to Select a Topic

The way to select a topic depends on whether you are writing a literature review for an assignment, or your own research. Here are some suggestions:

  • If an assignment, read the instructions carefully and talk to the professor for clarification if necessary
  • Scan academic journals for recent research trends
  • Monitor professional blogs and listservs for hot topics
  • Attend conferences to learn about current research
  • Talk to classmates, colleagues, and professors about your ideas to help focus them. Even an interested friend outside the field can help you clarify your topic and why it's important.

The Libraries' Subject Guides are a good place to find information about journals and professional organizations in your field. Use the Subjects list or All Guides Search to find the right Subject Guide for you.

Perhaps the most important point is to select a topic you find fascinating because you will be living with it for months or years!

Refine Your Topic

You will need to do some initial literature searching and reading on your potential topic for two reasons:

  • to clarify and solidify your research question because you can't test a vague research question
  • determine if someone else has already asked and answered your research question

The next tab, Search the Literature, covers where and how to search. While doing your initial search, be looking for the niche where you can do your research:

  • gaps in the knowledge on a subject area
  • questions about your topic that remain unanswered
  • areas of disagreement in your subject area that need to be settled 

After you've refined your topic, then you can go back and do further searching to find the most relevant sources for your research question, which you'll want to discuss in the literature review. Referring to the Literature Review Process image at the right, you are going to make a feedback loop between Select a Topic and Search the Literature. An initial, broad search will define your topic and then a second, narrower search will identify the sources most relevant to your refined topic.

Even in this initial searching, it's important to keep track of what you read and which articles are important in defining your topic. A bibliographic management software is an excellent tool for managing the literature. The UNT Libraries make RefWorks available to all UNT students, staff, and faculty, and its advantage is you have already paid for it through library fees. Zotero and Mendeley are free web-based reference managers you may want to explore; you will have to purchase software/online access for other reference managers, e.g., EndNote.

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