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Develop Your Research Topic

Just like the research process, picking a topic is more complex than you might think.

Are you still having trouble? You might want to check out this handout for some additional guidance on topic ideas:

If you are unfamiliar with your potential topic, you may need to research background information before you can develop a strong research question. Background information can come in many forms. You may hear a librarian or professor refer to the sources that contain this type of information as "reference books". Background information can help you identify key names, dates, events, issues, concepts, and terms associated with the topic. 

Some good sources to find background information:

  • Your textbook or class readings
  • Reference books
  • Credible websites
  • Library databases

Here are a few sources we suggest you explore:

Search Background Information:

Sometimes a topic that seems like the right size can seem way too big after you’ve learned a little more about it. When this happens, you need to narrow the focus of your topic. You can do this by considering different ways to restrict your research topic.

Some of the ways you can limit your topic are by:

  • Who - population or group
  • What - discipline or focus
  • Where - geographic location
  • When - time period or era
  • Why - why is the topic important?
For example, attempting to research alcohol use would be very overwhelming. However, researching reasons for alcohol abuse by female college students in the U.S. during the 1980s might be just right. [DISCIPLINE SPECIFIC EXAMPLE]

(adapted from U of Michigan - Finding and Exploring Your Topic)

Sometimes you will find that your topic is too narrow - there is not enough published on your topic. When this happens, you can try to broaden your topic. There are a couple of strategies you can try when broadening your topic. 

One strategy is to choose less specific terms for your search:

  • Standardized Tests instead of SATs
  • Performance-Enhancing Drugs instead of Anabolic Steroids

Another strategy is to broaden your topic by changing or removing limits from your topic:

  • Who - population or group 
  • What - discipline or focus
  • Where - geographic location
  • When - time period or era 
[CUSTOMIZE] For example, trying to research drug abuse by homeless youth in Springfield, IL in 1997 might be too difficult/specific. However, a researching drug abuse by homeless youth in the U.S. during the 1990s might be just right. 

(adapted from U of Michigan - Finding and Exploring Your Topic)