Five Tips For Choosing A High-Impact Research Topic
Here at Faunalytics, our research and content experts host free, weekly office hours to provide personalized support to other animal protection organizations and individuals. Advocates often come to us for advice about measuring their campaigns, applying our original research to their upcoming initiatives, or designing a study of their own. But another one of the most common questions we’re asked is, “How do I choose a research topic that will make a difference for animals?”
We are always excited to hear from students and researchers who want to use their skills to make a difference for animals. If you’re one of the growing number of scholars looking to choose a study topic that can make a real-world impact, we’ve compiled the following list of tips to help you choose an idea that informs the animal protection movement while speaking to your skills and interests. And you haven’t done so already, we also recommend checking out the website Effective Thesis for additional resources and coaching!
- Know what’s been done in your field: If your goal is to make your research as impactful as possible for animals and the animal protection movement, an important factor to consider is whether your issue has already been studied extensively in the past. That’s not to say you should be discouraged or dissuaded if you stumble across a few published studies on your research topic — in fact, having a foundation of existing research can help you tweak your own research questions! But if you notice there are a large number of studies addressing the issue at hand, then chances are you could make a marginally bigger impact by choosing a more neglected research topic (or perhaps by approaching your topic from a fresh angle). If you need some assistance in your search process, check out Faunalytics’ step-by-step literature review instructions here.
- Check out the priority research areas for different animal protection non-profits: Faunalytics has a formalized process that we use to identify and prioritize potential research topics. Similarly, other animal protection organizations list their own research questions and focus areas, which we’ve compiled on our resources page. From investigating the “humane myth” (a research priority for Sentience Institute) to choosing the most effective descriptors for alt-protein products (a key consumer research area for Good Food Institute) and more, these lists can be a helpful place to start brainstorming research questions of your own.
- Know your (research) limitations: A key challenge with selecting a high-impact research topic is that it depends on your academic field, research methods, and other factors. For example, an impactful research area for veterinarians may look different than an impactful topic for psychologists and other social scientists. Likewise, certain topics are more naturally suited to quantitative methods such as experiments and surveys, while others may be better studied using qualitative methods like interviews and focus groups. Still other topics require a very specific type of expertise, such as exploring renewable energy production (a research agenda topic for Wild Animal Initiative). Know what your strengths and limitations are before getting your heart set on a specific issue.
- Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box: No matter what field you’re working in, you can find a way to use it in support of animal protection. This may require you to put your thinking cap on and develop an out-of-the-box idea (perhaps teaming up with a scholar from a different discipline, or taking courses in a field outside of your own expertise). However, the animal protection movement will only benefit from having more creative thinkers and scholars willing to take exciting risks with their work to make a difference.
- Work together with your advisor or mentor: In the past, we’ve occasionally had students come to us with enthusiastic ideas for an impactful thesis topic, only to be pushed in a different direction by their advisor. Whether you’re completely new to conducting empirical studies or you’re a seasoned graduate student with research experience under your belt, chances are you’ll find it a lot easier to produce high-impact work with your mentor’s support. Since your advisor can only provide guidance in their area(s) of expertise, it’s important to engage them early on in your selection process. That way, you can narrow down your ideas together and choose a mutually beneficial topic.
If you’ve followed these steps and still have pressing research questions, know that our office hours are open to you, and once your work is finished, don’t forget to share it with us so we can consider it for inclusion in our research library. That way, we can help you raise awareness of your findings within the animal advocacy community!