While working with students over the past couple weeks, I’ve come across a misconception about finding sources to support a research topic. Let’s say that, based on your preliminary reading, you’ve narrowed your topic from child labor to the effect of a mother’s education level on the child labor rates of girls in Southeast Asia. The misunderstanding I’ve encountered is that some students think that several – or even all – of their sources should address this narrow topic. Not likely.
You may find a few studies that specifically address this issue, but then you could supplement those with a source that discusses child labor rates in Southeast Asia, another that discusses how a mother’s education level reduces child labor rates, and a third discussing gender differences in child labor.
The point of scholarly research is to practice reading, thinking, and writing like the budding scholar you are: analyzing and synthesizing existing research in the process of presenting a topic from a fresh, compelling perspective. Just as your teacher doesn’t want to receive a research paper that merely spouts an opinion without backing it up with evidence, neither does s/he want one that merely echoes the findings in existing studies. Instead, s/he wants to hear your voice in concert with the voices of published scholars.
Want to test how well you understand the sources you’ve consulted and how they relate to one other? Here’s a self-test. Imagine yourself at a large table, seated with the scholars whose articles you’ve read. If you could facilitate a dialogue between those scholars, one for which you could identify the subtopics they’d discuss and who would agree and disagree, then you’re on track to integrate your voice with theirs successfully.
If it’s narrowing your topic that has you stymied, then review this example of that process using the sample topic of child labor: Narrowing a research topic.