Four steps to narrow down your research topic

SILVIA 2020-04-24


Strong research papers have a clear focus.You may know this in theory.But when you’re starting out, it can bechallenging to decide what that focus shouldbe.How do you move from the broad topic thatyour instructor has assigned to a specifictopic that you can explore in depth?You can start by asking yourself four questions.

Each of these questions is a step that willhelp you narrow your research topic.Let’s imagine your broad research topicis the comic book industry.First question: What time period would youlike to focus on?You could focus on a historical era like theMiddle Ages, or you could focus on a developmentalstage like childhood.The way you interpret this question will dependon your topic.Let’s focus on the period known as the GoldenAge of Comic Books – we’ll look at comicspublished between 1938 to 1950.Now, our topic is comic books published between1938 and 1950.Second question: What location would you liketo focus on?You can think about location in a number ofways.You might want to focus on a geographic location.Or maybe it makes more sense to focus on aregion of the brain.Let’s focus on American comics.Our research topic is now American comic bookspublished between 1938 and 1950.Third question: What category would you liketo focus on?A category refers to a grouping of items withsimilar characteristics.A category could be a group of people, a setof similar theories, or a particular species.

Think about what category might mean for yourtopic.Let’s say you’d like to know more aboutsuperhero comics.Now your research topic is American superherocomic books published between 1938 and 1950.We’ve narrowed our topic significantly,but there were a lot of American superherocomics published between 1938 and 1950.We need another question.Fourth question: What perspective, point ofview, or issue do you wish to capture?Let’s look at the representation of femaleheroes.We’ve narrowed our research topic from thebroad category of comic books to the representationof female heroes in American superhero comicspublished between 1938 and 1950.This four-step strategy can apply to otherkinds of research topics too.For example, using the narrowing criteriaof time, location, category and issue, wecan move from the broad topic of global warmingto the narrower topic of the impact of oceanacidification (issue) on oysters (category)near British Columbia (location) over thepast five years (time).Or we can move from the broad topic of politicalstrategies to the narrower topic of the successof United States (location) presidential candidates(category) who used scare tactics to garnersupport (issue) during the 58th American presidentialelection (time).Once you have a focused research topic, yournext step is to create a research question.Drop by the Library for more help.

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