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Library DIY

From topic to research question

Strategies for Narrowing a Topic to a Focused Research Question

Usually, researchers start out with a broad topic before narrowing it down to a question. These strategies can help with that process.

Concept Maps
Create a visual map of your topic that shows different aspects of the topic.

Watch this video on Concept Mapping for a Research Paper by katmil2020:


Think about questions related to your topic. For example, when researching the local food culture, you might consider:

  • Why do people buy local?
  • What specific food items are people more likely to buy locally and why?
  • What are the economic aspects of buying local? Is it cheaper?
  • Do people in all socio-economic strata have access to local food?

Who, What, When, Where, and Why (the 5 W's).
These kinds of questions can help you brainstorm ways you might narrow your question.

Background Reading
Reference sources like the ones listed below can help you find an angle on your topic and identify an interesting research question. If you are focusing on a particular academic discipline, you might do background reading in subject-specific encyclopedias and reference sources, such as those found in Gale eBooks.

Sources for background reading:

  • Gale In Context: Opposing Viewpoints: brief articles that present multiple perspectives on current issues such as abortion, the death penalty, and teen pregnancy.
  • Britannica Online: contains comprehensive coverage on social studies, arts & humanities, geography, science & mathematics.
  • Gale eBooks: encyclopedias and specialized reference resources in all disciplines.
  • Wikipedia: get a quick overview of your topic. (Of course, evaluate these articles carefully, since anyone can change them). An entry's table of contents can help you identify possible research angles; the external links and references can help you locate other relevant sources. Usually, you won't use Wikipedia in your final paper, because it's not an authoritative source.