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Conceptualising your research

You may have chosen your research topic because it is an area you are passionate about. Or you may have some ideas about a topic after speaking to your supervisors, or through early investigations of literature. This stage, where you’re conceptualising your research, requires careful planning.

Whatever your motivation for choosing a topic, your research needs to be:

  • contributing new knowledge and/or extending existing knowledge;
  • refined to fit within the time limits of your candidature (for Masters by Research degrees this is 2 years full-time equivalent and Doctor of Philosophy and Professional Doctorates the time limit is 3 years full-time equivalent (with possible extension to 4 years maximum in exceptional circumstances);
  • appropriate to the ability and resources that you have as a research student and the resources and facilities of your school;
  • appropriate for the level of the degree you’re undertaking; and
  • justifiable to the academic and general community as an important and relevant piece of research.

Background reading

The process of identifying and developing an appropriate research topic requires reading a wide range of publications, including journal articles, reports, books, reviews and theses in related areas. Your reading should complement discussions with your supervisor and others within ECU in a position to provide advice. 

ECU library staff can assist you to identify sources of literature that are relevant to your area of research. We strongly advise that you contact them early on in your candidature to seek their help.

Information on library resources for each school can be found on the Library Services website. To contact and appropriate librarian visit the Subject Librarians or Senior staff web pages.

Defining the problem

Research is often said to be seeking to ‘solve’ a problem or fill a ‘gap’ in what is known.

A useful step in conceptualising your research is to define the problem that your research seeks to solve. In doing this, you’ll need to contextualise and position your research in terms of what is already known.

This is why a review of the literature in the area of your research topic is essential for clarifying your ‘problem’, research objectives and research questions.

Questions to ask yourself when defining your research problem include:

  • What is known about your research topic?
  • What specific questions, if answered, would extend your area of research?
  • What could your research add to what is known, and why is this important?

If you aren’t clear on where the ‘gaps’ are that your research could seek to fill, consider the recommendations for further research that have been made in the topic area and discuss with your supervisor and others knowledgeable in the field.

Defining the research problem is the first step before determining your research design, as it is only after you’ve defined the problem that you’ll be able to identify the methods and techniques to solve it.

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