Tips for Conducting Research

Writing Center logo

Choosing & Focusing Your Research Topic

Once you have read and understood your assignment, it’s time to choose a topic. Sometimes instructors will have a pre-approved list of topics for you to choose from, but other times you may need to come up with a research topic on your own. Whether you need to write a research paper, give a speech or presentation, or complete another type of assignment, this guide is intended to give you some ideas on how to choose and focus your research topic.

Choosing a Topic

Identify your interests:

  • Pick something that interests you! This will make your assignment much easier.
  • Scan through the course syllabus to see what topics your class covers each week, and see if any pops out at you.
  • Scan the chapters of your textbook for topics of interest.
  • Browse through newspapers, journals, magazines, or other information sources to see what current issues are interesting to you.

Do some basic research:

  • Conduct some introductory research on two or three topics that interest you the most.
  • Read some general articles to see what issues are under discussion and what scholars
    are saying.
  • Some good places to start your research include:
  • For each topic, ask yourself: is there enough information available on this topic to
    complete the assignment? If your initial search does not yield enough information, you
    may need to expand your search (see our tips below).

Brainstorm: 

  • Identify some key concepts and ideas from your initial research. Think about the who, what,
    where, when, and why of your topic. Brainstorming will not only help you choose an appropriate
    topic, but will also help you later as you conduct more in-depth research.
  • Write out what you know, think you know, and what you want to know about the topic.
    • What questions do you have about this topic?
    • What are some subtopics and related topics for these concepts?
    • Fill out a Brainstorming Map to help you!
  • An effective search strategy will not only save you valuable research time, but it also prevents the likelihood of reaching a dead end causing a change in topic.
Search Strategy Map
Search Strategy Plan by Porter, B. (2013). is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Focusing Your Topic

It is common to modify your topic through the course of the research process, so be flexible! You may need to either narrow or broaden your topic, depending on how much information you are able to find. 

To narrow your topic:

  • Focus your research on a particular time period.
  • Focus your research on a particular region; such as, a geographic region, a particular country or
    state, a local area. 
  • Focus your research on a particular population; such as, urban or rural populations, populations
    of a specific age range.
  • Look back at your research – what are some similar or parallel topics that you encountered in
    your research? Are there any that you could include in your research to expand your topic?
  • If you get stuck, ask for help from a librarian.

To broaden your topic:

  • Alter or eliminate any filters that you are using in your research.  For example, focus on a less specific population or do not limit your focus to a particular.
    geographic area.
  • Broaden the time period you are studying. Remember that it may be more difficult to find
    information on recent issues, especially if you are looking for scholarly resources.
  • Try using more general search terms in your research.
  • For example, try searching for “performance enhancing drugs” instead of “anabolic
    steroids.”
  • Look back at your research – what are some similar or parallel topics that you encountered in
    your research? Are there any that you could include in your research to expand your topic?
  • If you get stuck, ask for help from a librarian.

 

Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Translate »
American National University