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How to Research: 1. Define Your Topic

Define Your Topic

Define Your Topic

What topic interests you within this subject area? It is okay to start with a general topic and, as you build your background knowledge, narrow that topic.

How specific must your topic be?

It will depend on how many relevant and trustworthy sources you find in your research. You will need enough time to read through those sources and write a satisfactory paper given the limited space (yes, even 10 pages is a limited space).

  • If you find many sources, consider narrowing your topic.
  • If you find few sources, consider broadening your topic.

New topics tend to have limited resources, so your research topic might have to be more general. For very new topics, make sure there are enough relevant and trustworthy sources available before committing to it. Older topics have usually been considered from many different angles, so your research topic will have to be much more specific.

State your topic as a question

This keeps your research and paper focused on the specific topic.

For example, if you are interested in finding out about how well college students speak a foreign language after going on a study abroad, you might ask, "What effect does study abroad have on the foreign language skills of college students?"

Other examples:

Broad Topic: Foreign Language
Narrower Topic: Foreign language skills of college students
Research Question: What effect does study abroad have on the foreign language skills of college students?

Broad Topic: William Shakespeare
Narrower Topic: Film adaptations of Shakespeare plays
Research Question: How has Shakespearean drama been adapted for the 20th century film medium?

Broad Topic: Endangered Species
Narrower Topic: Giant Panda conservation efforts
Research Question: What is currently being done to help conserve the endangered Giant Panda population?

Narrow or Broaden Your Topic

Your topic should be broad enough so you can find sufficient information but narrow enough to answer a specific question.

Narrow a broad topic by:

  • A specific type, aspect, or sub-topic of the larger topic (Business > Marketing)
  • Location (Marketing in the United States)
  • A targeted population or age group (Marketing to teenagers in the United States)

A narrow topic may be too specific to return useful research results.

Broaden a topic by:

  • A more general or related topic (a cappella works > choral works)
  • Larger locations (Quebec > Canada)
  • Larger populations or age groups (Guatemalan > Hispanic)

Need to Find a Topic?

Use these databases to browse hot topics.