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Women's History: Selecting a Topic (for Graduate Students)

Use this guide to learn more about researching women's history.

Step 1: Search your interests within the context of your discipline

Finding a research question that is interesting to you, interesting to others in the fields you are working in, has not been answered already, and can feasibly be addressed in a graduate thesis is not an easy task. 

Start by asking yourself what broad subject areas in your field interest you most. You can use personal reflection and introspection to uncover potential interests. Then turn your attention to the shared knowledge in your field. Your first stop should be a consultation with your thesis advisor. A few next steps could include:

Selected Library Resources for Picking a Topic:

Step 2: Define the perspective or vantage point of your research

When you have selected a broad subject of study, narrow your topic by clarifying and defining its core ideas. Your advisor is a great resource for this and you should continue to consult with them throughout the process. Developing exact definitions for each of the key ideas that make up your topic brings the statement into focus. To do this, you’ll need to read. Look at academic literature as well as news, research reports, and any other resource where your topic is discussed.

Once your topic is in focus, identify an appropriate perspective or vantage point—the place from which to view the subject of your research. You want to note what kinds of evidence, arguments, and critical frameworks people have brought to these questions before.  You can then use this to define the particular academic perspective you will use in your research. 

Try to answer these questions before moving to the next step:

  • what questions are important to researchers who focus on this subject of study?
  • what kinds of evidence, arguments, and critical frameworks have researchers brought to bear on these questions before? 
  • what fields have these researchers come from and how has this affected the questions they asked/didn't ask?

Selected Library Resources for Narrowing Your Focus:

Step 3: Link your topic to academic vocabulary and gain entry into academic discourse

All academic fields have an esoteric language to describe their subjects of study. To gain entry into academic discourse, you must review your discipline’s specialized vocabulary and become familiar with the terminology that identifies your potential topic. There are a variety of ways you can develop this knowledge:

  • examine subject headings and keywords assigned to individual items related to your topic in library catalogs and databases
  • consult subject headings listed in the thesauri and indexes found in subject-specific academic databases

Selected Library Resources for Discovering Specialized Vocabulary:

Research Methods - Books to Consider