The Research Process: 1d. Refine a Topic

A step-by-step guide for getting started in the research process.

Finding the Sweet Spot

When it comes to developing a research question, you want to aim for a topic that is not too narrow and also not too broad. In other words, a research topic should be somewhere in the middle! Your topic should be specific enough that you are not drowning in information, but you also want to be able to find enough information to write a thorough and complete research paper. If you need help or have questions, ask a librarian!

Is Your Topic Too Narrow?

Your topic is too narrow if you're not finding enough information. Broaden your search by:

  • Exploring related issues
  • Comparing or contrasting the topic with another topic
  • Choosing a topic that is not so recent
  • Choosing a topic that is not so popular
  • Expanding the
    • time period covered
    • population considered
    • geographic area discussed

Examples of Broad and Narrow Topics

Broad Topic                                                                
Global warming                                                             

Narrow Topic

How will climate change impact sea levels and the coastal United States?

Broad Topic
What are the negative effects of television viewing on children and adolescents?

Narrow Topic 
Does cartoon viewing cause violent behaviors in children under the age of five?

Is Your Topic Too Broad?

Your topic is too broad if you're finding too much information. Narrow your search by:

  • Time period -- 1960's, bronze age, etc.
  • Geographic location -- Denver, New York, Australia, etc.
  • Population -- age, race, gender, nationality or other group
  • Smaller piece of the topic:

    • Genre -- jazz (music)
    • Event -- Battle of the Bulge (WWII)
    • Aspect -- government regulations (pollution)
    • Discipline or Subject -- music (in early childhood education)

Refining a Topic

If your topic is too narrow try exploring related issues.

If your topic is too broad try limiting it to a specific period, location, or event.

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