It is common to modify your topic during the research process. You can never be sure of what you may find. You may find too much and need to narrow your focus, or too little and need to broaden your focus. This is a normal part of the research process. When researching, you may not wish to change your topic, but you may decide that some other aspect of the topic is more interesting or manageable.
Once you have chosen a general topic idea the next step is to refine your topic and ulitmately to formulate a research question.
Consider the points below to keep your research focused and on track. If you continue to have difficulties defining a topic talk to your instructor or a librarian.
Once you have the topic you would like to research, the next step is forming your research question. Your research question should be focused and specifc. The result should also be a question for which there are two or more possible answers. See some examples below:
|Broad Topic >||Narrowed Topic >||Focused Topic >||Research Question|
|Women's health||Women & cancer||Women smokers & breast cancer||Is there a connection between cigarette smoking and breast cancer risk?|
|Computer games||Computer game violence||Computer game violence & children||How does violence in computer games affect children?|
|Eating disorders||Teens & eating disorders||Teen peer pressure & bulimia||What role, if any, does peer pressure play in the development of bulimia in teens?|
Before selecting your topic, make sure you know what your final project should look like. Each instructor will probably have different assignment requirements so be sure to read your assignment thoroughly and check for specific guidelines concerning:
You instructor will probably provide specific requirements for your assignment, if not the table below may provide a rough guide:
|Assigned Length of Research Paper or Project||Suggested Guidelines for Number & Types of Sources|
1-2 page paper
2-3 magazine articles or Web sites
3-5 page paper
4-8 items, including book, articles (scholarly and/or popular) and Web sites
|6-15 items including books, scholarly articles, Web sites and other items|
10-15 page research paper
|12-20 items, including books, scholarly articles, web sites and other items|
A topic will be very difficult to research if it is too broad or narrow. One way to narrow a broad topic is to assign limits to what you will cover. Some common ways to limit a topic are listed below using the broad topic, "the environment" as an example.
|geographical area||What environmental issues are most important in the Southwestern United States|
|culture||How does the environment fit into the Navajo world view?|
|time frame||What are the most prominent environmental issues of the last 10 years?|
|discipline||How does environmental awareness effect business practices today?|
|population group||What are the effects of air pollution on senior citizens?|
Remember that a topic may be too difficult to research if it is too:
Example: What sources of pollution affect the Genesee County water supply?
Example: How can the environment contribute to the culture, politics and society of the Western states?