IA Topic Development

Developing a Research Project Management System

This first step is extremely important to the overall success of your finished paper. Are you easily able to find research and notes you gathered four days or four weeks previously? If the answer is yes, then you may have developed a good research project management system. This is where you stay dedicated to a systematic method of keeping your notes and writing organized. In your case, this will mean keeping everything in a single GDrive folder and all of your notes in a single document organized by hyperlinks.

Selecting a Broad Research Topic

The first phase of your research is to discover a topic that interests you. This is not something that you should expect to complete in a day. Explore your topic by reading encyclopedia entries, textbooks, Wikipedia, and viewing reliable Internet sites (.edu, .gov or other well-known websites such as those sponsored by news organizations like the BBC, CNN or MSNBC). Many of these sites will not provide enough detail to support information in your paper but they will give you an overview to develop thoughtful questions to begin serious book-bound research later this quarter after you’ve developed a focused research question.

NOTE: For the very beginning of your IA I suggest you use Wikipedia to learn about the topics broadly and start narrowing it down. However, you may NOT cite Wikipedia or its kind in the finished product.

Forbidden Topics

I've taught and supervised research projects for more than two decades, and have taught the IA process at Strugis for fifteen years. Over these years there have been topics that have given students fits for either the lack of reliable information, difficulty in finding historical disagreement, or, as it the case often, students focus on the fun aspect of the topic and forget there has to be sufficient scholarly information backed by facts, not personal opinion. As such, these are the topics I will not accept. (List subject to expand.)

  • Any topic between 2008 and today as too soon to develop historical perspective (I.B. Rule).
  • CIA spying & foreign intervention / FBI Domestic Investigations
  • Foreign internal / external spying agencies
  • Current U.S. Politicians (Clintons, Bush, Obama, Trump, etc.)
  • Anything to do with the Mafia
  • Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories (as related to Cold War)
  • Hippies (analysis of sub-culture / protesting Vietnam War)
  • 60s Counterculture (protesting Vietnam War)
  • Development of military weaponry
  • Nazi scientists working for either Soviets or Americans following WWII (Cold War weapons / tech)
  • Holocaust (While this is a worthy topic, it is difficult to find material where solid and reliable historical disagreement can provide the student research with counterclaims.)
  • The physical / mental state of leaders (Hitler’s drug use, Mussolini’s megalomania, Mao’s aversion to bathing / lack of hygiene, JFK’s affairs)

Creating a Tentative Research Question

Once you have decided on a specific topic, your next step is to write a thesis statement. A good thesis derives from a good question. Since the thesis is your conclusion to a scholarly argument, there must be a clear question at stake. A thesis which does not answer a question, or answers a simple or obvious question, is not a thesis. You need to ask thoughtful questions of your topic and primary source material to develop a good thesis. The best theses are good because the questions they answer are significant, complex, and original.

What does a good thesis question look like? There are many sources for questions which lead to good thesis, but all seem to pose a novel approach to their subject. A good thesis question may result from your curious observations of primary source material, as in "During World War II, why did American soldiers seem to treat Japanese prisoners-of-war more brutally than German prisoners-of-war?" Or, good thesis questions may challenge accepted wisdom, as in "Many people assume that Jackson's Indian policy had nothing to do with his domestic politics; are they right?" Finally, a good thesis question may complicate a seemingly clear-cut topic, as in "Puritans expropriated Indians' land for wealth, but were psychological factors involved as well?"

The thesis is a sentence or pair of sentences (framed as a question) that describes what your IA will accomplish. This question will control, or guide your research as it is focusing on your main idea. The question usually contains one or more keywords that tell what the paper is going to accomplish. Keywords that often appear include analyze, classify, compare, contrast, define, describe, determine, establish, explain, identify, prove, and support. It should be very specific and kept within one of the four parameters: chronological; thematic; event and/or person; or conceptual.

To come up with a thesis statement, you will probably have to do a good deal of preliminary research. That is because before you can write a thesis statement, you need to know enough about your topic to have a general idea of what you want to say in your paper. Your thesis statement may change as you do your research, and that is O.K.

What is your thesis question?

First of all, a thesis is to an essay what a topic sentence is to a paragraph. In other words, the thesis is the controlling idea of an essay. A good thesis should clearly convey to the reader the focus of your paper without being too broad or too specific. Your thesis statement should state your main topic and encompass the main points that you addressed in questions two and three.

Points to remember in writing your thesis:

  • The thesis statement should be a complete sentence and be formed as a question.
  • The thesis should be stated in the third person.(No I, you, your, we, our,)
  • The thesis should not be stated in an obvious manner (Do not begin “In this report I will write about…”)
  • The thesis should be the last sentence of the introductory paragraph in the first draft.
  • It is also important to note that your thesis may change as you do more research on your topic. Make sure that your final thesis corresponds with the focus of your paper.