Topic selection I: narrowing and expanding

Selecting a topic for your work requires a look around and also a certain degree of self-reflection. If we are going to deal with a topic for a certain amount of time, we have to think about it, what interests us, and what we want to form a relationship with. If you’re dealing with a seminar paper that you’ll be writing for only several weeks, it’s naturally a choice with lesser impact than a dissertation that takes four years.  

We’re able to learn better with a topic that we’re interested in and one we enjoy. We can delve deeper into topics that we already know something about. We’ll spend more time orienting ourselves around a topic that we approach for the very first time in a given area. Weigh up your topic according to your task, time and preferences.  

How should we do this? In order to gain a better understanding, we’ve cut the process into four steps. These are linked to working with key words, which you’ll find in a separate text.  

Discovering my surroundings 

If your mind hasn’t been teased by a topic for a while, look to your surroundings and search for inspiration. What topic has caught your attention lately in school? Or in the news? Or how about in the context of what you want to do as a profession? What social problem affects you? Surf the web, read, talk to people around you, go to the library, gallery, to Theses, …  

Creating a topic  

A topic doesn’t have to come instantly – you can create it gradually from what you discover. For example, create a space for non-linear notes (in your mobile phone, notebook) and write down your thoughts and other snippets. When you collect enough, look at them as a whole. Are there some that are linked? Which would be nice to put together and spend some time on?  

Example: I’ve written down in my notepad what’s caught my attention and what entertains me: contemporary art (I like visiting young artists’ exhibits in galleries and I’m following various accounts on Instagram), YouTubing (I’m following Kovy), classmates (I like being friends with them and I sometimes help them with school), education (I’d like to be a teacher), Czech Radio podcasts (I listen to Vinohradská 12), and activism (I’m following Fridays for Future).  

What topic could be created from this? 

  • Contemporary art in secondary school lessons.  
  • The phenomenon of YouTubers.  
  • Educational podcasts.  
  • Teachers as YouTubers and podcasters.  
  • Students as YouTubers and podcasters.  
  • And many others...  

Specifying the problem  

The moment you’ve chosen a general topic like this, you can start to specify it and narrow it down to make it more concrete and processable. You’re looking for a problem to solve, the results of which will yield something interesting, useful and nice. Typically, some of these limitations can help you do this:   

  • time,  
  • place,  
  • target group,  
  • method.  


  • Attitudes of a secondary school class towards lessons on contemporary art via peer tutoring on Instagram.  
  • Analysis of the contemporary YouTuber scene in the Czech Republic and viewership within a secondary school class.  
  • Teachers as YouTubers and podcasters: attitudes of the teachers of one secondary school towards new teaching methods.  
  • Students as YouTubers and podcasters: peer tutoring in the time of quarantine.  

Although we’ve now outlined the process of defining a topic as a straight path, in practice it can take several rounds. It’s important to set up a time limitation so you’re not choosing forever.  

Establishing a goal 

The problem doesn’t have to be big enough for you to be drowning in your own thoughts while researching and thinking about it. At a certain point, you need to think about what can be achieved in the time that you have, the extent of the work that’s been assigned, and the possibilities of research, which depend on your situation and conditions. We should generally begin with selecting goals according to three levels of research: describing, explaining and predicting; or establish it via cognitive goals: e.g. create, suggest, analyze, compare and synthesize.  

The opposite approach: extending the topic 

We don’t always progress form a general topic to a specific one as in the example above; sometimes we do the opposite. In these cases, we try to get rid of limitations on time, place or target group, or we just expand them. For example, if you enjoyed finding out the motivations among your classmates for creating their own YouTube channels but there are only two of them, you can expand the group to include students from a different school, city or country. If they’re creating video channels but not on YouTube, you can expand the platforms to include more general social networks for video sharing such as TikTok.  

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