Four Steps to Narrow Your Research Topic
This video provides strategies to move from a broad topic to a more specific topic that you can explore in depth.
Strong research papers have a clear focus. You may know this in theory. But when you’re starting out, it can be challenging to decide what that focus should be. How do you move from the broad topic that your instructor has assigned to a specific topic that you can explore in depth? You can start by asking yourself four questions. Each of these questions is a step that will help you narrow your research topic. Let’s imagine your broad research topic is the comic book industry.
First question: What time period would you like to focus on?
You could focus on a historical era like the Middle Ages, or you could focus on a developmental stage like childhood. The way you interpret this question will depend on your topic. Let’s focus on the period known as the Golden Age of Comic Books – we’ll look at comics published between 1938 to 1950. Now, our topic is comic books published between 1938 and 1950.
Second question: What location would you like to focus on?
You can think about location in a number of ways. You might want to focus on a geographic location. Or maybe it makes more sense to focus on a region of the brain. Let’s focus on American comics. Our research topic is now American comic books published between 1938 and 1950.
Third question: What category would you like to focus on?
A category refers to a grouping of items with similar characteristics. A category could be a group of people, a set of similar theories, or a particular species. Think about what category might mean for your topic. Let’s say you’d like to know more about superhero comics. Now your research topic is American superhero comic books published between 1938 and 1950. We’ve narrowed our topic significantly, but there were a lot of American superhero comics published between 1938 and 1950. We need another question.
Fourth question: What perspective, point of view, or issue do you wish to capture?
Let’s look at the representation of female heroes.
We’ve narrowed our research topic from the broad category of comic books to the representation of female heroes in American superhero comics published between 1938 and 1950.
This four-step strategy can apply to other kinds of research topics too. For example, using the narrowing criteria of time, location, category and issue, we can move from the broad topic of global warming to the narrower topic of the impact of ocean acidification (issue) on oysters (category) near British Columbia (location) over the past five years (time). Or we can move from the broad topic of political strategies to the narrower topic of the success of United States (location) presidential candidates (category) who used scare tactics to garner support (issue) during the 58th American presidential election (time).
Once you have a focused research topic, your next step is to create a research question. Drop by the Library for more help. Get help via chat or email via the Library website, phone us at 519-824-4120 ext 53617 or visit the AskUs Desk