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Research Process Guide

A Word of Caution

It is possible to narrow your topic too much, making it difficult or nearly impossible to find any information to supplement the point you wish to make.  If that is the case, try broadening your topic by:

*comparing or contrasting the topic with another topic

*expanding the:

  • time period covered
  • population considered
  • geographic area discussed

*choosing an alternative topic that is not so recent -- it may not be covered in books and journal articles yet

*choosing an alternative topic that is not so popular -- it may be covered in popular magazines and tabloids only

Choosing a Topic

If you are given the opportunity to choose your topic:

  • Pick something that is of interest to you so that you'll enjoy your research!
  • Pick a topic that is well defined and manageable for the type of assignment.
  • Scan your textbook, course readings or encyclopedias to get topic ideas and to get more background information.

Focus Your Topic

Before starting your research on the topic you've chosen, do the following:

  • State your topic as a question or sentence. 
  • Identify the main keywords, concepts, and terms from your sentence or question.  Add synonyms and consider alternate spellings. 
  • Refine your topic if it is too broad.  Consider the following:
    • Is there a specific georgraphic area that you are interested in?
    • Is there a specific time period or major event that you want to focus on?
    • Is there a particular aspect that you are interested in?
    • Is there a particular age group or group of people you are interested in?
  • If you still need help refining your topic, check out this handout.


Broad Topic: Global warming

Narrower Topic: How will climate change impact sea levels and the coastal United States?

Broad Topic: Violence on television

Narrower Topic: Does cartoon viewing cause violent behaviors in children under the age of five?


Here's a quick tutorial to help get you started.