Starting Your Project


Undertaking a research project is your opportunity to demonstrate the knowledge, skills and abilities you have developed throughout your course. This section will help you to think about what topic you want to research, how you formulate research questions and develop aims and objectives.


Choosing Your Topic

Your school may provide you with ideas for topics or give you a specific project or research question to answer. In most cases however, you are expected to think of and refine the topic yourself. This can be a difficult task; considering the following questions may help to focus your thoughts:

  • Look back at your taught modules, is there a particular topic or subject that you found interesting or had questions about?

  • What are the research interests of academics in your School? Is there something here that you could build on? Can you draw on the expertise already present in the School?

  • Have you seen any visiting speakers that talked about research that particularly interested you?

  • Is there anything you experienced on a work placement, or study abroad, that would make an interesting research project?

  • Are there any potential topic areas which fit well with your wider studies and (if applicable) future study plans?

  • Are there any topics that might benefit your future employment plans? Will it add anything to your CV? Will you be able to talk about it in job applications?

You do not have to research a completely new area; you will be building on existing research, but you might take a different approach, or research it from a new angle. For example, you may wish to replicate a study but apply different criteria to test, such as using another framework/theory, limiting to a specific country, gender, industry etc.

Discuss any topic ideas with your supervisor as early as possible to ensure that you are researching an appropriate area.

Even just getting started and deciding on a topic can feel really daunting for many students. To help ease any concerns you may have, we asked students who have recently finished their degree to talk about how they overcame some common worries and what advice and top tips they would give to students who are starting their research.

Video - How did you go about choosing your topic? View video using Microsoft Stream (link opens in a new window, available for University members only).


Developing your research questions

Once you have decided on a topic you will need to narrow down your focus. You need a clear idea of what you want to find out and why. It is helpful to turn your topic into a research question, or set of research questions, to answer even if you do not explicitly state these in your project write up. This will help guide your whole research project.

Research questions should be:

Relevant and interesting

  • From your initial reading on the topic what are the key issues being discussed? What has already been researched around your subject and is there a gap which your question can address?

  • Who will be interested in your research and why? Does it build on existing knowledge or fill a gap? Does it test an existing theory or framework?

  • Can you identify a problem that needs solving? It may be that your project involves designing a solution to a real world problem.

  • Are you interested in answering the question? You will have to spend a lot of time over the next few months working on it, so you need to make sure that it will sustain your interest and motivation.


  • Are you being too ambitious or not ambitious enough? Remember you only have a short period of time to conduct the research.

  • Is there sufficient background literature to work with? What are the key sources of information?

  • What methods will you use to answer your research questions? Will you be carrying out primary research? If so, how? Will you have enough time to gather the information and analyse the data?

  • Do you have the skills to complete the research? If not, do you have time to develop them?

  • Do you have access to the resources, facilities, people that you need, to carry out your research?

Original (to some extent - this is not a PhD!)

  • Can you identify an original angle on the research, and would you be able to make an original contribution?

  • What is already known on the topic? Can you strongly challenge or corroborate existing interpretations and ideas?

  • Can you fill a gap or build on current research?

  • Can you exploit existing sources or data in new ways?

  • Can you look at an unstudied topic which impacts on existing theories?

  • Can you exploit new sources or data for old problems?

  • Can you employ new methodologies?

  • Can you apply approaches from other fields?

These are all just points to consider; your project does not have to do all of these things!

You may find that your research question evolves as you work through your project.

Here are some examples of research questions. We have provided links where possible to the full projects so you can get a sense of how they discussed their research question without always explicitly stating it:


How western fashion has influenced fashion in Iran (School of Design)


Tehran Fashion: Key political and social influences 20th century to present day.

Research question:

How have the youths of Tehran reinterpreted western practices of fashion presentation since 1925 to modern day?

Click to view and print this example


Experience of dealing with anorexia-nervosa (School of Psychology)


Experiences of parents of people with anorexia nervosa: an interpretative phenomenological analysis.

Research question:

How do parents of adult children with anorexia nervosa make sense of their experiences of interactions with healthcare services and professionals?

Click to view and print this example


Margaret Thatcher’s foreign policy (School of History)


Dispelling the mythology: a critical examination of the effect that Margaret Thatcher's purported ideological principles had on Britain's implementation of a libertarian foreign policy.

Research question:

How committed was Margaret Thatcher to the expression of libertarian ideals in foreign policy, and what were key reasons for British cases of governmental non-conformance?

Click to view and print this example


Counter-terrorism and the law (School of Law)


Radicalisation and Universities: A Critical Analysis of the Effectiveness and Consequences of the Prevent Duty.

Research question:

How effective is Prevent in combatting radicalisation in universities? What are the consequences of Prevent for universities?

Click to view and print this example


Quantum effects (School of Physics and Astronomy)


Quantum effects in Biology.

Research question:

What is the effect of quantum coherence in the efficiency of energy transfer in photosynthesis and what is the role of the radical pair mechanism in the avian magnetoreception?

Click to view and print this example


Developing your aims and objectives

Once you have a clearer idea of your research topic and focus, you need to identify your aims and objectives - this will define your project and help to keep you focused. You may be asked to include these explicitly in your project, but this will not always be the case - check your module handbook and ask your supervisor.


This is a statement(s) which expresses the purpose of your research – what do you want to achieve by the end of your research project?


They set out the steps you will need to take to achieve your overall aim(s). They should be specific, measureable, realistic, achievable and time constrained.