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Getting Started on a Project

Establishing the purpose of the research project should be your first priority.  Unless the researcher believes in the value of the work, the time and effort invested will lack clear purpose and the task will be frustrating.  Scrutinize your career goals with a practical, honest eye, and then determine what areas of research hold sufficient interest to capture your imagination in the years ahead, or those which may better your job opportunities.  You might ask yourself if the research topic will serve as the fulcrum for later scholastic work such as a master's thesis or doctoral dissertation.  Will your future employer benefit from your insight and study?  

When you have reviewed your topic with your advisor and gained approval, you are ready to narrow and refine your subject.  A specific, precise, detailed study of one segment of a larger problem is far more effective than a broad, sweeping overview.  Papers that generalize tend to reduce a complex problem to simplistic solutions.  Knowledgeable readers quickly dismiss such work as superficial and inconsequential.  Instead, break the subject into subtopics, and then select two or three that offer opportunities for original investigation and discovery.

All divisions of the topic should ultimately form a coherent, seamless manuscript.  Ask your advisor for help in limiting your topic's scope to fruitful proportions, and to an inquiry that can be reasonably completed in one semester.

Be prepared to defend your ideas and to explain the significance and value of your work.  Has the research been done before?  If so, can your work significantly expand the body of knowledge?  If field work is integral to your work, determine how it will be conducted.  If a poll or survey is involved, determine how much data must be gathered before a reasonable conclusion is reached.

One last word of advice: Do not allow yourself to drift toward an unintended outcome.  Perhaps you do not know what your research will prove.  Lulling yourself with the "wait‑and‑see" approach often leads to a seemingly endless series of false starts.  Spell out your intended outcomes, and then set to work with your goal clearly in mind.