Identifying and Justifying a Research Topic


Introduction:  Identifying and Justifying a Research Topic


The goals of this assignment are the selection of a research topic/question for follow-on study and justification of the importance of the study.  The assignment should be completed according to the following steps.


Step #1


State the research problem/question.  What is the intent of the proposed research?  The research question should be formulated with a “how” or “why” question.  For example:  1) How do immigrants assimilate into the labor market? Or, 2) How does increased traffic law enforcement decrease fatalities?


Step #2


In three or four double-spaced paragraphs, justify why this is an important topic for research.  Envision submitting the idea to a government agency or corporate client for funding.  Address the following questions:  1) Why is research necessary on this topic?  2) How will it help policymakers develop good policies or change existing policies?  3) How will it contribute to the growth of scientific knowledge?


Step #3


Write one or two paragraphs describing exactly the goal of the study (What does it to do?).  State the research problem from Step #1 at the beginning of the first paragraph.  And then clearly state the study objectives.


Step #4

Combine the results of Steps #2 and #3 into a paper format.  Join the paragraphs together into a single cogent narrative (“flow like in a paper.”)


Deliverable (What should you hand in)


Submit #4.  Please type your assignment in 12-point font (preferably Times New Roman) and Double-space text.  If you use any statistics or other references, please cite the material (see the format below).




Examples of Bibliographic Citations


1)         Journal Article/Newspaper Article


Bruning, Edward R.  1989.  “The Relationship Between Profitability and Safety Performance in Trucking Firms.”  Transportation Journal.  28(3):40-49.


Choi, Seungmook, Don Hardigree and Paul D. Thistle.  2002.  “The Property/Liability Insurance Cycle:  A Comparison of Alternative Models.”  Southern Economic Journal. 68(3):530-548.


2)         Book


Breyer, Stephen.  1993.  Breaking the Vicious Circle:  Toward Effective Risk Regulation.   Cambridge, MA:  Harvard University Press.


3)         Chapter in a book


Arrow, Kenneth J., Maureen L. Cropper, George C. Eads, et al.  2002.  “Is there a Role for Benefit-Cost Analysis in Environmental, Health, and Safety Regulation.”  Pp. 153-158 in Lawrence O. Gostin, Public Health Law and Ethics:  A Reader.  Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.


Savage, Ian. 1999. “The Economics of Commercial Transportation Safety.” Pp. 531-562 in Essays in Transportation Economics and Policy. Editors:  Jose Gomez-Ibanez, William B. Tye, and Clifford Winston. Washington D.C.:  Brookings Institution Press.


Examples of Citations within a Paper


1)  Savage (1999) argues that the socially optimal number of commercial vehicle crashes will exceed the minimum number that is technically feasible.


2)  The socially optimal number of commercial vehicle crashes will exceed the minimum number that is technically feasible (Savage 1999).


3)  “Risk-related matters that enter the forum of public debate may have to pass political as well as technical tests for safety.”  (Breyer 1993:55)


4)  According to Breyer (1993:55), “risk-related matters that enter the forum of public debate may have to pass political as well as technical tests for safety.”














Annotated Bibliography/Literature Review


The goals of this assignment are the preparation of two written components of the overall research effort:  1) an annotated bibliography; and, 2) an initial synthesis (“draft”) of the findings from the literature.  The process begins with a survey of the scholarly literature in the selected research area:  the literature will help conceptualize and operationalize the research question.  The scholarly literature can be initially accessed via Google Scholar, but must include searches of EconLit and JStor, as well as other resources accessible

While it is expected that many citations will be considered and included in a “bibliography,” at least five sources should be identified and “annotated” (five to seven is the ideally number for this exercise, but more will help later development of the term paper).  Focus on reputable peer-reviewed articles or books (and state your method for determining the quality of each reference) and publications since 2002 (older publications may be definitive, but it important to access the most recent state-of-the-art references).  “Annotating” the most relevant publications involves preparing:  1) a brief summary of the publications key points (two to three paragraphs), and 2) a summary of how the publication informs the selected research topic and question.   This process is designed to eliminate references that will not be useful.


The format for submission is as follows:

  • Reference #1
    1. Brief summary
    2. How reference #1 will help YOUR effort
  • Reference #2
    1. Brief summary
    2. How reference #2 will help YOUR effort

((Continue through reference 5-7))


The Literature Review is a natural extension of the consideration of many references (both those directly related (and hence annotated) and indirectly) related to the subject area and the research question.  The write-up should link together the published works while identifying commonalities in methods and findings, gaps in analysis and where the research question resides in the literature.  This effort should lay the foundation for the follow-on “research proposal.”


Research Proposal


This assignment will require the preparation of two major parts of the final term paper:  1) the theoretical background and hypothesis; and 2) the methodology section.


Background and Hypothesis


Building upon the annotated bibliography and literature review from Assignment #2, this section of the term paper will link the proposed research directly to the existing literature.  Theories, explanatory frameworks and/or empirical evidence pertinent to your research question are to be presented:  additional sources will be added as appropriate (the final term paper should have ten to 15 courses in total).


For the “research proposal,” the following questions need to be considered:


  • What is the theoretical basis for answering the research question? That is, what are the arguments, given the existing theories, about how you key independent variable “X” is associated with the dependent variable “Y”?  Each theory should provide an argument about the relationship.  If this is not explicit, an extrapolation from theory about how “X” affects “Y” needs to be applied.
  • How does the research build upon findings of earlier studies? In discussing how theory relates X to Y, existing studies that reinforce the relationship with theory should be stated.  Accordingly, the theory explanation can be placed in a research context.


In constructing the research proposal, at least two theories or two arguments should be made to explain the relationship between Y and X.  (Hence, support the theory of interest by eliminating the competing theory of disinterest).  With the establishment of the competing theories and/or arguments, the supporting references should be assigned to the appropriate theory/argument (“put into ‘piles’ corresponding to the theories”).  Important questions to consider are:  what concepts are being used in each theory?  What are the results?  Do they support the theories?  How does the finding of follow-on articles support/refute earlier work?


In drafting the research proposal, briefly summarize competing theories relevant to your argument.  Specify major assumptions and key concepts of the theory of interest (the “Y” that explains “X”).   With the details assembled, create a section called “Hypotheses.”  State at least one hypothesis about the relationship between X and Y for the theory you present.  Your hypotheses should follow logically from the description of the theories/literature in the outline.




This section requires the description of the data that will be used to conduct your study, outline the plan to operationalize the variables in the study, and described how to test the hypotheses.  Briefly describe the data:  what is it? And, how will it be used?  What is the unit of analysis?  (for example, fatal crash; individual driver)  What is the data source? (Be as specific as possible).


If data needs to be collected, what are the possible sampling plans?  If data exist, what was the sampling design for the data?  What are the strengths and weaknesses of the data?  Are the data limited in terms of the time points at which they were collected?  Are they limited by the unit of analysis at which they are available?  Be sure to comment on how these strengths/weaknesses will affect the ability to successfully address the research question.


Next, focus on the variables:  identify dependent and independent variable(s).  For the dependent variable(s), what concept(s) are being measured? With an exiting dataset, state the items/questions from the survey that measure the concept of interest.  If new data needs to be collected, state the questions that need to be asked to measure the concept of interest?  Identify exactly the data set of origin for the dependent variable(s) and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the operationalization of the dependent variable(s).


For the independent variable(s), begin with the key variable(s) (those of greatest interest and which the hypotheses are centered upon).  Address the following questions:  what concepts are being measured?  What questions was being asked when the data were collected?  Then discuss the independent variables or “test factors” that need to be controlled for in order to identify the unique effect that the key independent variables have on the dependent variable of interest.   Identify exactly the data set of origin for the independent variable(s) and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the operationalization of the independent variable(s).


Last, detail the methodology envisioned to test the hypotheses.  Described exactly what steps will be taken to determine how each competing hypotheses are supported.  Describe the steps of the analysis.  It is recommended to prepare DRAFT tables that could be used to present the results of the analysis.  Further, it is necessary that the statistical tests to be used as part of the analysis and hypotheses testing are detailed (understanding that the statistical tests can only be finalized as the research is conducted.)


Final Report


The goal of the final report is the synthesis and augmentation of the materials written during the seminar into a coherent paper format (assignments #1, #2 and #3) along with the empirical findings of your final research effort.  In assembling the final form, all comments should be incorporated and each assignment reconsidered.  The following sections should be included:


  • Introduction

    -follow the guidelines from assignment #1


  • Theory/Literature Review

    -present competing arguments
    -explain how references explain the relationship between independent and dependent variables, and competing arguments
    -references should be included according to how they inform the research and on a study-by-study basis


  • Hypotheses

    -present competing hypotheses
    -link directly to section II

  • Data

    -the unit of analysis
    – data source(s)
    -strengths and weaknesses of the data (comment on data validity)


  • Variables/Model

    -dependent variable(s)
    -key independent variables
    -test/control variables

  • Analysis/Findings

    -correlation between variables
    -explanatory ability of the model
    -how results support competing hypotheses
    -tables of statistical findings


  • Conclusion

    -research objectives, data used, analytical results and significance of the effort


Please use section headings in order to improve the flow of the paper.  The final report should be double-spaces and 15-17 pages (excluding references and tables).  The final paper should be free of spelling and/or grammatical mistakes.



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