Generating Ideas

Generating Ideas

The following unit is designed to help researchers get started generating ideas for a research project.

Learning Objectives

  • To identify personal experiences and knowledge that may be helpful in generating ideas for research projects.
  • To create a list of potential sources for research ideas.
  • To learn more about how to take a research idea and develop it into a proposal.


One of the most difficult aspects of research is generating an idea that is interesting and workable.  Researchers must understand what work has been done on a given area and how they may be able answer additional research questions that could further advance the field.  Once an overall topic area of interest of interest has been identified, the researcher should review the literature and examine what research has been done on that topic and look for gaps, holes, or areas that could benefit from further exploration.  These steps will require the researcher to consider their current knowledge base and to explore areas that may lend themselves to further research.  Of course, the main criteria for a good research idea is that the research idea be of genuine interest to researcher.  Once a researcher has identified an overall research idea, they can begin to narrow the topic down to a particular aspect of the idea that is realistic and feasible to research.  The following chart lists a few of the ways that researchers may generate large scale ideas for research projects. 

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The following PowerPoint and video further discuss strategies for generating research ideas.  Both also then discuss the process that must occur for a researcher to take an overall idea and develop it into a research proposal. 

Suggested Readings: 

  • Alvesson, M., & Sandberg, J. (2011). Generating research questions through problematization. Academy of Management Review, 36(2), 247-271.
  • Devlin A. (2006)  Research Methods.  Thompson Wadsworth.
  • Glueck, W. F., & Jauch, L. R. (1975). Sources of research ideas among productive scholars: Implications for administrators. Journal of Higher Education.
  • Franzoni, C. (2009). Do scientists get fundamental research ideas by solving practical problems?. Industrial and Corporate Change, 18(4), 671-699.
  • Robson, C. (2002). Real world research: A resource for social scientists and practitioner-researchers (Vol. 2). Oxford: Blackwell.

Resource Links

Generating and Refining Research Ideas - This book chapter provides tips on how to generate larger research topic ideas and narrow them down.

 Generating Innovative Research Ideas - The American Psychological Association discusses how to generative innovative research ideas by reading broadly, attending lectures and other strategies.

 How to Find a Good Idea and Do Something With It - This PDF discusses how to generate research ideas including a list of seven things you can do right now to generate research ideas. 

 Where Do Good Research Ideas Come From: - This website contains four points about developing a good research idea, including a video resource.

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