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Developing a Research Topic: Narrowing Your Topic

Information about how to develop, narrow, and broaden a research topic.

Narrowing your Topic

Often you have a topic you are interested in, but the topic is too broad for your project. Think about the length of your paper or presentation when deciding how narrow you should make your topic. Sometimes starting your research will help you narrow down your topic. Search for information on your topic, and scan through the results or read an overview of the topic to figure out what aspect of the topic most interests you. Or, ask yourself some of these questions to help narrow down your topic.

  • The five W’s – who, what, when, where, & why.
  • Can you focus your project on a specific aspect of the topic? What do you want to find out about this topic?
  • Can you narrow your topic to a specific time period or a specific event?
  • Can you narrow your topic to a specific geographic area?
  • Is there a specific purpose you have for researching this topic?
  • Can you narrow your topic to a specific problem or question?
    • For example:
      • Compare/Contrast
      • Cause/Effect
      • Problem/Solution
      • Opinion/Reason

Circling the Lighthouse

Finding a topic for a research paper is like photographing a lighthouse. They're all interesting, and they have all been photographed or written about before.  Why do people keep coming back to them? Maybe it's because someone comes along and draws our attention to a new detail or story.

First, you need more detail. You need to study the lighthouse, or your topic, in order to examine it from every angle. By “circling” the lighthouse (your topic) you may find a new angle for your paper.

Good research is not just about compiling facts. It also asks and answers key questions about the topic at hand.