How to Choose a Research Topic A Guide for Medical Students
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Medical research or clinical research forms one of the most important aspects of studying medicine and understanding the medical discipline at large. Medical research involves more than simply preparing for the MBBS degree or sitting for related exams. Courses in medicine are extremely demanding – both from the perspective of understanding the subject matter, as well as doing research. Without proper planning, this workload can get extremely hectic, especially when a student isn’t prepared to perform research activities, beyond their daily quota of studying. 

In this regard, it becomes important to understand that medical research goes far beyond one’s usual medical coursework. Medical research comprises various components. A full-length research project in the medical or related clinical fields includes several variables. Understanding these variables can be challenging for researchers who don’t have much prior experience. However, one can streamline their research process by following a simple research plan. 

What does a Research Plan consist of?

A research plan broadly involves:

  • Arriving at a suitable title;
  • Understanding the relevant theme;
  • Finding available data;
  • Undertaking primary research and field-work;
  • Undertaking surveys and hospital visits;
  • Formulating a definite research methodology;
  • Initial drafting; 
  • Proof-editing; and 
  • Sending for publication.

It must be noted that most of these processes may vary depending on one’s choice of publication and the nature of the research topic. In this article, the focus lies in choosing a suitable research topic. 

What are the steps to choose a medical research topic?

The most important step towards drafting a good research paper is selecting a topic that suits one’s research plan and highlights key findings. Please see below some detailed tips on how a medical student can find a suitable research topic, or zero in on an area of research:

Choose a research topic inclined with your medical or clinical interests

There are so many different avenues of research in the medical field today, that it has become imperative for individuals to focus on, and shortlist, what they want to write about in their research papers. 

It is recommended that students begin by aligning their research topic to a medical or clinical topic that interests them the most. This will help keep them from becoming easily distracted or bored in the middle of their research. This will also help them keep their interest levels high and ensure that they spend adequate time developing the topic for their research. 

For example, if you are interested in specializing in cardiology, your research topic could focus on the processes and literature around cardiology. Prioritising on the subject matter you want to specialize in, could prove to be helpful in the future when you are ready to expand your career and grow further. It will also provide you with an in-depth understanding of your preferred specialisation as a medical aspirant. 

Focus on Research Questions:

Similar to research in qualitative fields of social sciences, or data-oriented empirical research in technical disciplines, research questions remain an integral part of conducting in-depth research. Research questions are questions answered during the course of research. 

For example, if your research topic is “Recognising modern alternative medicine as a treatment for cancer”, then possible research questions could include:

  • What is alternative medicine?
  • Is it possible to cure cancer with alternative medicines?
  • Are there any limitations to the usage of alternative medicines for treatment of cancer?
  • Is there any derogatory impact of using alternative medicines in thai respect?

Formulating good research questions gives your research process a strong framework, which makes your entire study easy to navigate in the long run. It also helps you complete the research process within the given time frame.

Remember that research is more than just data collection:

When performing medical or clinical research, it is important for students to understand that research is much more than merely a collection of data. Although empirical research data holds an important position, there are several qualitative factors that also must be taken into consideration while drafting one’s research paper. It is important for students to understand the theory behind the data to carry out proper research and analysis of the subject. 

The research includes a qualitative understanding of one’s chosen research topic. It also encompasses looking for precedents, literature and other broader research ideas. Furthermore, it also involves an analysis of normative, as well as empirical factors, that are key to one’s research paper. 

If you are a research enthusiast, it is necessary for you to understand that research constitutes a lot more than the collection of data and interpretation of available statistics. It involves a rigorous analysis of normative factors and circumstantial evidence, as well as an application of domain-specific knowledge. 

Students are encouraged to consider all circumstantial factors, such as precedents and past cases, to validate their research. This is because statistics of medical cases provide only a broad idea, and not the absolute truth in respect of a subject, and thus cannot be entirely relied upon. 

Undertaking adequate literature review as part of secondary research:

Research papers comprise primary and secondary research. 

  • Primary research involves data collection, typically undertaken individually through field-work, hospital visits and surveys. 
  • Secondary research comprises literature review and analysis from sources that have been previously verified and published on reputed platforms. 

The literature review helps the researcher to understand the type and nature of research that exists and is available for the research topic of their choosing. It also helps researchers to gather relevant information, which ultimately helps them explain the data they have acquired during the course of their research. A literature review is one of the most important parts of a research paper and is necessary for the purpose of citations and approvals during the formal publication process. 

Learning about publications and research guidelines to formalize the research topic:

Simultaneously while deciding on a research topic for one’s medical or clinical research paper, students should take into consideration the publications that they wish to send their research paper to, for publishing. This helps in streamlining research work. 

Once a publication has been decided, researchers typically use research guidelines provided by that publication, to arrive at their research methodology. These guidelines act as a framework to draft the research paper well. Research guidelines may differ from publication to publication depending on the process of review, acceptable citation standards, and the nature of the research conducted. Preparing a proper research methodology allows researchers to have a definite structure, and maintain a flow through the course of their research.  

Remember that your abstract essentially introduces your research and helps you to elucidate on the topic of your choice:

If  you are unable to find yourself a definite topic for your research paper, you can start by writing a short abstract. This abstract essentially explains the research idea you will be focusing on, in your paper, and the research method or process that you have chosen for the same. 

Abstracts form one of the most important parts of a research paper and can help a researcher to streamline the length of their research papers quite easily. Abstracts also help researchers to connect the central idea behind their research to the topic they have opted for. 

If you are unable to develop or arrive at your research topic, you can start with the abstract and formulate the research topic from the specifics discussed within the abstract. This may help in maintaining a flow and throughout the course of your research. 


There are various steps that researchers are required to undertake once they have fixed their research topics. Developing a research topic is perhaps just the start. However, it is one of the most time consuming portions of the research process. The topic for your research paper determines which publications or academic forums might consider your research for the purpose of being presented or published. This will help you gain academic recognition in the medical or clinical related fields, enabling your career to grow. Medical research helps further the development of medical treatments, find ailments, and innovate on medicines and pharmaceutical advancements. This can go a long way in preventing diseases and fighting them in the long run. 

Generally, most available medical research incorporates both primary, as well as secondary research. One should consider making their research paper comprehensive by using appropriate facts, analogies, data and statistics to prove their point and arrive at a definite conclusion. Researchers may browse the internet, go through study forums, or consult with mentors, advisors, and professors to come up with a streamlined research topic. Researchers also have access to offline resources such as academic journals and books beyond their prescribed curriculum. All these elements have the power to add value to their research paper. 

In the event a student or researcher is unable to finalize a research topic for conducting their research and writing their research paper, they may start by putting their thoughts down in the form of an abstract. This method has been known to help many students eventually arrive at a definite research topic, closely related to their research documentation. 

Frequently Asked Questions:

Question- How to decide on a research topic?

Answer- There is no right or wrong method to determine a research topic. Students may find a research topic close to their clinical or medical interests, or find a topic that does not form part of their study but interests them greatly. Deciding on a research topic may be cumbersome and require additional academic effort on the part of the researcher, but once decided, can help the researcher successfully carry out their research.  

Question – How is medical research different from other research work?

Answer- Medical research incorporates all the essential components of qualitative and quantitative research. It constitutes an amalgamation of both normative and empirical research that requires adequate theoretical and historical substantiation. It requires an in-depth understanding of related medical fields (as opposed to general research) and a detailed understanding of available literature around the topic of research. 

Question – Can I select a completely new research topic?

Answer- Yes, you are free to select a research topic that does not have pre-existing literature available. However, as such a breakthrough research topic is difficult to find for a beginner, it is suggested that beginners utilize information found in previously conducted research, and examine existing medical cases to make valid points.  

Can I review existing research for my research paper?

Answer- As a beginner researcher, it is recommended that one focuses on existing literature for the purpose of their review to arrive at a research topic of their choice. Such research is known as secondary research and is easier than primary research.

How do I present my research paper?

Answer- Presenting your research paper is not as tough as it sounds. Once you have completed drafting your research paper, you can highlight the key points that are covered therein, and use those points to prepare a presentation. Remember, you don’t need to delve in-depth into a topic during a presentation, as long as you get the crux of your research across to the adjudicators and the audience. 

How do I publish my research paper?

Answer- To publish your research paper, you need to search for a relevant publication that accepts unsolicited publication entries, undertaken in the field of research of your choice. Please go through the eligibility requirements of each publication carefully before sending your research. 

Why is medical research necessary for a medical student?

Answer- Medical research is constantly evolving; there is always a need for innovation in medicines and treatments. Medical research is crucial for the growth of medical students as it helps them understand the discipline at large, and helps them evolve as the industry scales. 

What are the broad themes I can do medical research in?

Answer- There are numerous different topics for a medical student to perform research in. You can choose from verticals such as public healthcare systems, radiology, oncology and advancement of cancer treatments, pharmaceutical advancements, etc. You can even find specific topics provided by various publications, which can give you ideas for conducting your research. 

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