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Choosing A Topic: Choosing a Topic

Tips for Selecting & Limiting Your Topic

Here are some basic tips for limiting a topic for any research paper. 

Choosea topic that interests you. If it's something you like, you'll enjoy it.

Make sure: that your topic is not so broad that you are overwhelmed with information.

Make sure: that your topic is not so narrow that you can't find enough information.

Limit: your topic to a time period if necessary. For example, 2, 5 or 10 years.

Limityour topic to a geographical area if necessary. For example, the United States or Kentucky or Louisville.

Consider: how much information you need. For example, your professor may require 3 scholarly articles, 1 book, and 1 newspaper articleIt's best to know what you need before you even start looking.

Start: your research early to eliminate stress and anxiety.

Social Issues

Selecting a Topic

Stumped about what to write about? Here are a few places to get ideas. Your instructor may have used other similar terms for your research assignment, such as hot topics, taking a stand, advocacy and argument, pro and con, or persuasive essay/speech. Because of disagreements in controversial topics, books and articles often have biases, conclusions based on emotions or beliefs, facts taken out of context, and authors lacking authority. It is important to carefully evaluate all sources of information, especially websites.

Generating Keywords/Narrowing Your Topic

Narrowing Your Topic: Strategies

A topic is too broad to be managable when you find that you have too many different, and oftentimes conflicting and only remotely related, ideas about how to investigate the research problem. Although you will want to start the writing process by considering a variety of different approaches to studying the research problem, you will need to narrow the focus of your investigation at some point. This way, you don't attempt to do too much in one paper.

Here are some strategies to help focus your topic into something more manageable:

  • Aspect -- choose one lens through which to view the research problem, or look at just one facet of it [e.g., rather than studying the role of food in Eastern religious rituals; study the role of food in Hindu ceremonies, or, the role of one particular type of food among several religions].
  • Components -- determine if your initial variables or unit of analyses can be broken into smaller parts, which can then be analyzed more precisely [e.g., a study of tobacco use among adolescents can focus on just chewing tobacco rather than all forms of usage or, rather than adolescents in general, focus on female adolescents in a certain age range who smoke].
  • Place -- the smaller the area of analysis, the more narrow the focus [e.g., rather than study trade relations in West Africa, study trade relations between Niger and Cameroon].
  • Relationship -- how do two or more different perspectives or variables relate to one another? [e.g., cause/effect, compare/contrast, contemporary/historical, group/individual, male/female, opinion/reason, problem/solution].
  • Time -- the shorter the time period, the more narrow the focus.
  • Type -- focus your topic in terms of a specific type or class of people, places, or things [e.g., a study of traffic patterns near schools can focus only on SUVs, or just student drivers, or just the timing of stoplights in the area].
  • Combination -- use two or more of the above strategies to focus your topic very narrowly.

NOTE: Apply one of the above first to determine if that gives you a manageable research problem to investigate; combining multiple strategies risks creating the opposite problem--your topic becomes too narrowly defined and you can't locate enough research or data to support your study.