Picking a research topic is probably one of my favorite things to do. Any historian, probably any academic, will tell you the importance of their research topic: why it is needed, what it contributes to humanity, how it will make a difference, and so forth (this habit has been engrained in us by grant and fellowship applications). However, when I choose particular topics, I find that letting my personal experience, objectives, and desires inform helps.
Your topic should be a selfish one, one that makes you feel excited, makes you feel fulfilled, and makes you want to get to work.
I am committed wholeheartedly to exposing sexism, especially through the lens of intersectional feminism. My choice of topic is personally informed. I research romance comic books, their reflection of the anti-feminist commentary, and how they are used as tools to teach women their place in society.
This topic inspires me for several reasons. First, the themes that these comic books espouse are the similar anti-feminist themes that several older women in my life preached at me, as if holding up some sacred duty. However, these women did not always act in ways that indicated that they believed in the “wisdom” they imparted and I wondered at the connection between these “values” and mass media.
Second, these comic books are part of the foundation of modern media’s targeting of women through themes of false empowerment—something that negatively influenced me throughout my preteen and teenage years. Obviously, these themes in comic books are still present, if slightly morphed by modern tastes.
Third, these comic books haven’t been analyzed at any great length. I do not want to be copying, or simply building off of, the work of others. I want to contribute something new, not just a slightly varied point of view on something that everyone already knows about. I want to surprise.
And the topic is just sexy (if by academic tastes).
On a more practical note, here are three important things (as mentioned in the video) to keep in mind when picking a research topic:
- Make sure that your mentor/professor approves of it. There is nothing more aggravating than coming up with a great idea and having it shut down when you are already invested in it.
- Make sure you have the resources, especially the primary sources. I have witnessed too many students panic, and often fail, when they actually start their research/papers due to the fact that they didn’t make sure that they actually had access to the needed sources.
- Make sure breadth of your topic matches the length of your paper. You can’t write an eight-page paper on anti-feminist commentary in teen-targeted TV shows. You could write an eight-page paper on how the show Pretty Little Liars propagates eating disorders through the representation of food as props.