From an idea to a topic
The most important requirement in academic writing is selecting the best possible topic. Choose a topic that is current, and approach it from a novel perspective, i.e. formulate a research question that has not been posed before. You may have a pool of interesting topics to choose from, or you could be assigned a topic by your supervisor.
Regardless of your individual situation, you should always keep the following basic principles in mind during the topic selection process:
Topics can be narrowed down by time (e.g. “Import policies during the Hapsburg reign in the 19th century”), geography (e.g. “The development of public transit in Southern Tyrol”), by subject group (e.g. “Farmers in a post-traditional society”), by theoretical approach (e.g. “Organizational development from a systems-theory perspective”), or by any number of other categorizations. It can be necessary to use more than one criterion to limit the scope of your topic.
This may sound obvious, but remember that your topic must be “doable.” No matter how enthusiastic you are about a particular topic, you have to be able to handle it with the resources at your disposal. Think carefully about the time and effort writing about your chosen topic will entail, check to see if the materials (sources) you would need are available to you, and review the methods you would need to apply to see if you are familiar with them.
Reflect on your topic and define goals
Reflecting on your topic includes stepping back and viewing it from a distance. When all is said and done, what is the question the work is supposed to answer? Who could this answer be relevant for? These questions can then be further broken down into sub-questions. Even if you don’t know at the start what results your work will produce, especially if you’re doing empirical research, you should have some idea of what the finished product will be like before you start.