It is often the case that a research problem, even one assigned by your professor, interests you because it relates to a current issue in the news or it is something you have very recently experienced. Choosing a research problem that connects to current affairs is an excellent way to remain engaged in the topic; you feel a connection to the issue or event because it's happening now and a definitive outcome has yet to play itself out. However, you could experience a number of problems if your topic focuses on a very recent issue or event, including:
A clue indicating a topic is too current would be if the only information you find is from news service organizations, blogs, articles from popular magazines and newspapers, and other non-scholarly sources. Depending on the assignment, relying on non-scholarly sources may be acceptable. More frequently, though, professors will require you to cite scholarly research studies as part of your analysis. However, the nature of scholarly research in the social sciences [also referred to as "academic" or "peer-reviewed" research] is that papers submitted for publication frequently take more than a year between editorial review of the manuscript to when it is finally published. In response to this, many journal publishers provide access to what is termed "pre-prints." These are essentially online versions of the final draft of a manuscript and, thus, should not be considered the authoritive copy of an article. Given these issues, it will often be diffcult, or perhaps impossible, to locate scholarly research studies about a very current issue or event.
The obvious solution is to choose a different research problem to investigate. However, if the topic is of particular interest to you, here are several strategies you can use to find scholarly or related research-level analysis of a very current issue or event:
1. Look for related literature that provide opportunities for comparative analysis. For example, only now are scholarly research studies emerging that investigate the rise of ISIS and its impact on the Middle East. However, by reviewing the research literature about past terrorist movements, you can extrapolate key lessons learned or identify new ways of understanding the central research problem associated with the current, on-going event.
2. Locate opinions/statements of prominant authors and researchers. Leading scholars are often called upon by news organizations, editors of leading newspapers and other media outlets, both in print and online, to comment and provide insight during and immediately after an event. For example, in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, many prominant experts on disaster management and recovery were interviewed and asked to comment on how New Orleans should be rebuilt. Although these sources do not constitute a body of scholarly research, the writings of leading scholars can be considered authoritive because they represent the opinions and observations of experts who have gained in-depth knowledge on the topic as a result of conducting prior research.
3. Identify research centers and special interest organizations that focus on studying current issues and events. Research centers and special interest organizations often lead the effort to study and publish in-depth reports about a current issue or event. In the case of research centers, this is because their purpose is to bring together scholars and practitioners who have special expertise or interest in a particular subject area. The mission of many special interest groups is to attempt to influence policy or to promote a specific agenda. Note, that because many research institutes and special interest group organizations are privately funded, you must watch out for any bias in their analysis or recommendations. A good source for indentifying research centers and special interest organizations is the Gale Directory Library database.
4. Look for Congressional Hearings and government agency reports. Congress often holds hearings shortly after an important event [e.g., the Ebola outbreak] or a very new topic of interest. Although politically-driven, the testimony to Congress is often presented by leading scholars and experts in the field who provide detailed explanation and analysis of an issue. However, unlike the opinions of experts in media outlets, the testimony of witnesses at Congressional hearings are under oath. In addition to Congress, governmental agencies may issue reports produced by experts in the field. To locate Congressional hearings GO HERE. To locate documents issued by government agencies, GO HERE.