Human Rights Studies: Mapping Your Topic

Research guide for Human Rights Studies MA

Developing your Topic

The quantity of information out there can be overwhelming and daunting. Where to start? It may be helpful to think about the "landscape" of information that is out there as a way of breaking things down, at least at the conceptual level. What kinds of publishing happens in human rights? Where do scholars and/or activists, organizations, policymakers etc. have their debates and share their knowledge?  Who is collecting the types of data or information that will allow you to analyze and test your ideas?  Below, left, is one schema that seeks to chart this landscape.

With that landscape in mind, you can also "map" your topic, by breaking it down into names, terms, time periods, etc. Mapping translates your ideas into practical terms and concepts that can be searched and researched.  

This is a non-linear process, of course.  Jump ahead to the section on Background Sources, or the Literature Search, or News to help find sources so you can learn more about your topic.  But come back and invest some time in thinking about your landscape and your map and how that will help you craft a plan for your research.


Human Rights Information Landscape

This diagram offers one way of visualizing the information landscape of the field of human rights.  Your research may draw upon different kinds of sources and a variety of search techniques and tools may be necessary to discover and access these sources.  Increasingly, information is born-digital, created and accessed online and many other sources have been digitized and made available online.  Historical sources and those from regions of the world with less abundant digital publishing may not be as widely available online and may be overlooked if one does not use a variety of search strategies.

Thinking about the ideal sources you could or should use, at the beginning of your research project, can save you time and help you determine the best strategies and tools for searching.

Mapping Your Topic

Topic mapping template

How can we understand the reliability of crowdsourced information about human rights or humanitarian crises?


Mapping your topic can be a useful exercise that may save you time and facilitate more effective searching.  Mapping involves translating a topic or a thesis statement into a vocabulary of names, words, dates, and keywords. 

In this example, I have started to map a research question regarding the reliability of crowdsourced information about human rights or humanitarian crises.

Brainstorm your vocabulary!  Popular terms may not always be used in catalogs or databases, and there may be well-established terminology for your topic that will allow you to quickly identify relevant sources.  Make sure you invest time into brainstorming about all possible ways to describe your topic;  learn from your searches by looking at the subject, keywords or other tags that may be associated with relevant articles or materials that you discover.