Academic Research and Dissertation Consulting

  • Comprehensive Exams
  • Topic Development
  • Prospectus/Concept Paper
  • Introduction
  • Literature Review
  • Systematic Literature Review
  • Qualitative Methodology
  • Quantitative Methodology
  • Power Analysis
  • Transcription
  • Qualitative Analysis
  • Statistical Analysis
  • Discussion Section
  • Dissertation Defense
  • Thesis Consulting
  • Journal Article Assistance

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  • Prospectus and Concept Paper Assistance
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Constructing a new study from the ground up can be daunting, even for experienced researchers. For doctoral candidates and others new to academic research, it can be hard to figure out where to even start! You might already have research questions that you want to ask, but how do you know that there is a legitimate need to address these questions in your graduate research?

In order to develop a successful study, your research topic needs to be three things: clear, contemporary, and compelling. This means you need to present in your dissertation or thesis writing a focused and specific topic that has current relevance in your field. More importantly–and this is where compelling comes in–your topic should be one that has yet to be addressed in the existing research.

Once you’ve determined that your topic meets the “3 C” criteria, you then need to begin to think about how to design your study to answer the questions that will drive your study. Again, this is where many of our dissertation clients encounter challenges, not only in selecting the best methodology for their proposed research, but in ensuring proper alignment between the foundational sections of their study.

The topic development stage is a tremendously exciting moment in the research process, and here at Precision, our dissertation consultants have developed a unique and comprehensive approach to supporting our clients as they finalize their topic and methodological approach. Whether you have a clear idea in mind, or don’t know where to start, as your dissertation coach we can help you find a topic that you’ll be excited to pursue.

We’re also familiar with many of the major online universities’ specific requirements for prospectus and concept paper presentations of proposed topics, so rest assured that we can help you develop a firm foundation for the full study to come!

  • Our topic development process begins with a call with one of our methodologists–either qualitative or quantitative, depending on your preference–to discuss the two basics: your general interests for the study, and what is realistic for you in terms of sample size and data collection.
  • From there, we embark on the comprehensive and exploratory research needed to find a current and significant research gap in your discipline. Once we select a potential research gap that we can address, we can develop the problem statement and theoretical framework. We’ll share this with you right away so that we’re able to make sure to be on the same page. The problem statement, in particular, is the cornerstone for the whole study, and so making sure that it’s set appropriately before we expand to the full foundation (purpose, research questions, and methodology) will be very important.
  • Once we have your approval to move forward in alignment with our suggested problem statement, we create your purpose section. From there, we ensure that the research questions, hypotheses, instrumentation, and sampling plan are aligned with the problem and purpose statements, and completely feasible for you in terms of data collection. As part of this process, we also confirm that the proposed quantitative or qualitative research methodology properly addresses the research questions.
  • As a final step, we’re able to provide full support as you complete the remainder of your full initial deliverable–whether that’s a concept paper, a prospectus , or your introduction to the full dissertation . Typically 12 to 15 pages in length (although we can absolutely tailor our dissertation assistance to meet your needs), this document in its final version contains the full and approval-ready foundation for your study, aligned precisely with your requirements.

Let’s keep it a secret…

Methodologist calls in the last month, new client topics approved last year, clients graduated in 2022.

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Research Topics

At many different points in your study of Anthropology, you will encounter assignments that require you to develop your own research projects. How do you move forward with a topic that interests you and is relevant to study.

The task is to come up with a research question that is intellectually rigorous while also feasible and appropriate for the scope of the paper or project. The benefit of this process is that you will be able to spend time answering a question that is exciting to you, and to explore topics otherwise not covered in most classes. The following section is excerpted and adapted from Lahiri, Mahmud, and Herron (2007)'s Guide.

❶ Choose a topic

Work from a class topic.

One way to go about choosing a topic is to start with something covered in class. Was there an assigned reading that you found particularly intriguing? Did one of the sections of the syllabus touch on an issue you have always wanted to learn more about? What made this stand out for you? Once you have pinpointed your interests, you can start to explore and define them further through additional research.

Personal interests

Anthropological research is grounded not only in academic materials, but also in personal interests. Your own experiences, values, hobbies, and longtime pursuits can and should inform work that is important to you. Personal interests can springboard into larger academic issues, so think creatively about what drives you.

Cengiz Cemaloglu '18 - Language & Culture

Marisa Houlahan '17 - Sublime to Shipbreaking

❷ Consider feasibility

Conduct a preliminary bibliographic search.

Before settling on a topic, spend some time at the library. What if you found a very interesting topic, but nobody else has ever written about it? Unless you are tackling a large, independent project, such as a senior thesis, and you can count on a lot of expert help, it would probably be best to stay clear of subjects about which there is no literature available. A trip to the library or an online library search are important first steps when assessing the feasibility of a topic. 

Have a motivating question

To make a topic feasible, you will need to have a motivating question (e.g., a thesis to prove or a question to answer) that can be addressed within the space provided.

In addition to any requirements or guidelines your course might have, your topic will also need to fall squarely within the scope of anthropology. 

For instance, let's say you come across several media articles on the growing demand for financial services in various Asian countries, and your interest is piqued. You do a scholarly search and you get too many hits, and none of them look very anthropological. So you decide to specify your interest a bit more: are you going to look at the rise of mortgage brokerages? Investment advisors? No, it's hard to see what the anthropological question would be. You decide that life insurance might be a better prospect, figuring that people new to the practice might have mixed feelings about essentially making a bet with a company about how soon they might die. Going back to Google and Google Scholar, you get more promising results: you find media stories about a life insurance ad campaign in India and about the increasing tendency of Indonesian pilgrims going on Haj to take out insurance policies. Google Scholar provides a number of references to articles in business journals (which may or may not be helpful), as well as a couple in of articles in anthropology journals. Bingo! You may have found a viable topic.

💡Tip: Talk to specialists

Your instructor and/or teaching fellow should be your first stop when seeking help regarding your paper.

It may also be worth it to talk to someone who specializes in the topic you are researching. Check the department website  for a list of faculty and graduate students and their research interests and publications. If you see someone whose life's work has been about the topic you picked for your paper, sign up for office hours or send a politely worded email to ask for an appointment or to pose   a brief question .

❸ Make sure the scope is right

What is doable in a 90-page senior thesis would be too much in a 7-page paper. Usually, the shorter the page limit, the more specific your motivating question will need to be. For instance, if you are interested in indigenous land rights but you are only expected to write a 15-page paper, you may want to choose a specific court case to examine how a particular group asserted their rights to the land. If you were to opt, instead, for a broad overview of indigenous land rights movements, your 15-page paper might end up rather superficial.

💡Tip: Outline and ask your TF 

If you are having trouble gauging whether your content is appropriate to the page length, you have a couple of options.

First, you can write an outline of the sorts of evidence or pieces of argument you're likely to have to present, as well as subtopics of things you may have to define and any arguments you know you want to make. An outline will help you judge the complexity of the paper, and should give you more of an idea of whether you need to cut or further refine your focus.

Second, ask your professor or TF. They have more experience in writing papers of different lengths and will be able to tell you if you're taking on too much or whether you need to add something to be able to carry the argument across a longer paper. 

Text on this page adapted from Lahiri, Smita; Mahmud, Lilith; and Herron, James. 2010. A Student’s Guide to Reading and Writing in Social Anthropology . Cambridge, MA: Harvard College.


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English 102: Topic Development

Resources for Topic Development


Pre-Research is the very beginning of any research process. This is when you're trying to figure out what topic you're interested in and see what kind of information is out there about it. CQ Researcher and Wikipedia are great places to get started with the pre-research process. 

Helpful Tutorials for Topic Development

Research is a Conversation from UNLV Libraries on Vimeo .

Asking Academic Questions from UNLV Libraries on Vimeo .

Topic Development Activity

Developing a perfect topic is tricky. You want it to be interesting.  You want it to be narrow or specific enough, but you also want it to be broad or general enough. Finally, you're writing an argument, so it needs to be a topic that has multiple perspectives. Use the worksheet below to develop a perfect topic!

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How to Identify and Develop a Topic: .

How to identify and develop a topic.

It is difficult to define a topic with much specificity before starting your research. But until you define your topic, you won't know where to begin your search for information and you won't know what to look for. With a well-defined topic, you can focus your search strategies to find lots of relevant information without also finding a lot of useless stuff.

Selecting a topic to research is not a one-step task. Identifying and developing your topic is an ongoing process that does not end until you have finished your research project. Start with an idea you are interested in. Find and read some background information to get a better understanding of the topic, then use what you have learned to search for more specific information. Refine (broaden, narrow, refocus, or change) your topic, and try another search.  

Find a Topic

If you weren't assigned a specific topic and can't think of one:

Narrow Your Topic

The initial idea for a research topic is often too broad. If your first searches for resources are so general that you find more information than you can click a mouse at or deal with in a reasonable amount of time (i.e. before the research project is due), focus on one of the following:

Make it a Question

It is often helpful to state your topic in the form of a question. Treat the research project as an attempt to find a specific answer for a specific question.  

List Main Concepts

Pull out ideas and key terms that describe your topic. You can get a better idea of these by looking up your topic in an encyclopedia or other appropriate reference work. This will give you a better understanding of your topic, which will help you figure out what sources you will need and where you will need to look to find them.  

Analyze Your Topic

Where should you look for information? From what subject or discipline perspective are you looking at this topic? Do you need scholarly or popular sources? Will you need books, articles, sound recordings, primary sources, etc.?  

Select Appropriate Tools

Which tools do you need to find the type of information you want, (e.g. the library catalog for books, subject specific indexes for journal articles, etc.) See the library's guide to How to Find and Evaluate Sources for more.  

Initial Results

After you do an initial search, you can tell some things just from the number and type of sources you find. If you get a million or so hits, you probably need to narrow your topic. If you get only a few, broaden it. If the hits seem to be irrelevant to your topic, search using different terms. Do another search and see if you get what seems to be an appropriate amount of appropriate sources. Keep refining your search until you are satisfied with your results. Then go read them.  

After reading through some of the sources you find, you will get a better understanding of the topic you are researching. With this better understanding, you can revise your initial topic and its corresponding question for which you are so diligently seeking an answer. You can also refine your search strategy: the databases you search in, the keywords or subject terms you search for, etc. Go back and try another search using your revisions. Repeat as necessary until you have done enough research to know what to ask and how to answer it.

Common Essay Structures / Patterns of Development

Patterns of development overview.

Most academic essays have an overall structure – introduction leading to a thesis, body, conclusion. Essays also have topic sentences and units of support that constitute the body, and these topic sentences and units of support need to be ordered logically in a way that’s appropriate to the essay’s thesis.

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In addition to the concept of the thesis indicating a general, logical order for the support, there are actually many different ways to think about and organize information in the body of an essay, using different patterns of development. These patterns, referred to academically as “rhetorical modes,” mirror the ways in which humans think about their worlds and organize their thoughts in order to communicate.

The concept of rhetorical modes actually goes back to ancient civilizations. Though it seems particularly pressing in our current social media, online-all-the-time culture, the idea of “information overload” has troubled humans for centuries. Despite these concerns, many of our ancestors found productive ways to manage information overload. And their strategies remain helpful today. Ancient rhetoricians, including Aristotle and Cicero, developed techniques that writers used to gather, categorize, and explore common features in sets of information.

They identified “topoi,” or patterns, which were those general features shared in any idea or argument regardless of the content of that argument, including definition, relationship, and/or division. For instance, ancient rhetoricians might ask “Is the argument about a definition?” If they discovered that a definition was, in fact, controversial, then they knew they could follow certain common patterns and use common strategies. Other common patterns included comparison and cause-and-effect.

Knowing that these common patterns of human thought exist, will help you as a writer to both develop and organize information in your essays. The following image identifies common patterns. Although it refers to “paragraph” patterns, understand that these are also common patterns for whole essays.

Flow Chart. Central idea: Choosing Paragraph Patterns. Radiating from top right: Narration - introduction, to tell a story that makes a point, to give background on people or event, to show sequence of events. Process - to show steps of action, to explain how to do something. Example/Illustration - to clarify a point or concept, to give a picture or specific instance, to make the abstract real. Analogy - to compare scenarios, to compare to a settled outcome, to compare one event to another very different one. Definition - to clarify meaning, to set foundation of argument, to give background. Comparison/contrast - to draw distinction between items, to find common ground. Description - to give details, to create a picture. Cause/effect - to lead from one item to another, to argue logic of evidence of action. Classification/Division - to put items in categories, to clarify comparison of items in a category, to divide items by characteristics.

Consider these common patterns of thought and consider specific ways in which you’ve applied each thinking pattern in your everyday life.

1. Narration

The purpose of narration is to tell a story or relate an event. Narration is an especially useful tool for sequencing or putting details and information into some kind of logical order, usually chronological. Literature uses narration heavily, but it also can be useful in non-fiction, academic writing for strong impact.

2. Description

The purpose of description is to recreate, invent, or visually present a person, place, event, or action so that the reader can picture that which is being described. It is heavily based on sensory details : sight, sound, smell, feel, taste.

It’s common to see examples used in all kinds of situations—an idea can be considered too general or abstract until we see it in action. Exemplification extends this idea even further: it carries one or more examples into great detail, in order to show the details of a complex problem in a way that’s easy for readers to understand.

4. Definition

Defintion moves beyond a dictionary definition to deeply examine a word or concept as we actually use and understand it.

5. Process Analysis

Analyzing a process can also be thought of as “how-to” instruction. Technical writing includes a lot of process analysis, for instance. Academic writing can incorporate process analysis to show how an existing problem came to be, or how it might be solved, by following a clear series of steps.

6. Classification/Division

Classification takes one large concept, and divides it into individual pieces. A nice result from this type of writing is that it helps the reader to understand a complex topic by focusing on its smaller parts. This is particularly useful when an author has a unique way of dividing the concepts, to provide new insight into the ways it could be viewed.

7. Comparison/Contrast

Comparison focuses on similarities between things, and contrast focuses on their differences. We innately make comparisons all the time, and they appear in many kinds of writings. The goal of comparison and contrast in academic essays is generally to show that one item is superior to another, based on a set of evaluations included as part of the writing.

8. Cause/Effect

If narration offers a sequence of events, cause/effect essays offer an explanation about why that sequence matters. Cause/effect writing is particularly powerful when the author can provide a cause/effect relationship that the reader wasn’t expecting, and as a result see the situation in a new light.

9. Problem/Solution

This type of academic writing has two equally important tasks: clearly identifying a problem, and then providing a logical, practical solution for that problem. Establishing that a particular situation IS a problem can sometimes be a challenge–many readers might assume that a given situation is “just the way it is,” for instance.

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Often in your academic studies, you will be asked to apply a specific thinking pattern in an essay assignment. For example:

Even if you are not directly asked to apply a specific thinking pattern, you may want to use one to help you develop and organize your insights. The four patterns noted above – comparison and contrast, cause and effect, division and classification, and process analysis – are very common in academic as well as everyday thinking and writing.

development in Industry topic

Other topics

Development in Composition: Building an Essay

Learning to support your main ideas with pertinent details.

 Lisbeth Hjort/Getty Images

In composition , development (also known as elaboration ) is the process of adding informative and illustrative details to support the main idea in a paragraph or essay . Paragraphs and essays can be developed in many different ways. In conventional composition courses, the following patterns of exposition are often presented as the standard methods of development in expository writing :

Observations on Development

"[The] methods of development aren't empty jugs to pour full of any old, dull words. Neither are they straitjackets woven by fiendish English teachers to pin your writing arm to your side and keep you from expressing yourself naturally. The methods are tools for achieving your purpose in writing, whatever that purpose may be. They can help you discover what you know, what you need to know, how to think critically about your subject, and how to shape your writing." —From "The Bedford Reader" by X.J. and Dorothy M. Kennedy

The Importance of Providing Supporting Details

"Possibly the most serious—and most common—weakness of all essays by novice writers is the lack of effectively developed body paragraphs . The information in each paragraph must adequately explain, exemplify, define, or in some other way support your topic sentence . Therefore, you must include enough supporting information or evidence in each paragraph to make your readers understand your topic sentence. Moreover, you must make the information in the paragraph clear and specific enough for the readers to accept your ideas." —From "Steps to Writing Well" by Jean Wyrick


"What the opening of an essay promises, the body of the essay must deliver. This is known as 'developing your ideas,' but I like to use a body-building metaphor because it implies adding not just bulk to a framework, but musculature. In other words, good essay development strengthens , not merely fills out. . . .
"What is the best way to reinforce the main idea of your essay? You can do some by making good use of any combination of the following six methods of development:
"By using these bodybuilding elements, you are telling your readers, 'I don't expect you to take my word for these claims ; I want you to see for yourself!" —From "LifeWriting: Drawing from Personal Experience to Create Features You Can Publish" by Fred D. White

Multiple Patterns of Development

"Although most short papers may employ one primary pattern with other patterns woven throughout, longer papers may have two or more primary patterns of development . For example, if you are writing a paper on the causes and effects of child abuse in the foster care system, you might, after the causal analysis, shift the primary focus of the essay to prevention, thus continuing the essay with a process analysis of what the state might do to prevent child abuse. Then you might end the essay by addressing the objections from those defending the system, shifting the focus of the essay to argumentation .
"Your decision to include other primary patterns depends on your purpose and audience . Your thesis makes your purpose clear to your reader. Then as you develop your essay, you may integrate other patterns into your paragraphs." —From "Bridges to Better Writing" by Luis Nazario, Deborah Borchers, and William Lewis

Further Resources

topic development meaning

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