Once you have chosen a general topic for your research paper, you will want to narrow this topic to something more specific. Next, you will develop a research question to research, explore, and write about in your paper.

Narrowing a Topic

When you have an overall subject to pursue, your next task is to narrow and focus the topic. You want to narrow your topic so that you can explore it in detail. Also, narrowing your topic will enable you to better determine the specific direction of your paper and the research you will conduct on your topic.

You can focus your topic by using the following strategy:

Generate a list of more specific areas of interest (subtopics) related to your overall topic

  • For example:
    • Subtopics related to education:
      • Online education
      • Traditional education model
      • Common Core
      • STEM education
    • Subtopics related to crime:
      • Juvenile crime
      • Criminal justice system
      • Racial profiling
      • Prison reform

Developing a Research Question

Once you have narrowed your topic, work on developing a research question that you want to explore. Keep in mind this won’t be a factual question that has a set right or wrong answer.

You can develop your research question by using the following strategy:

Generate a list of questions that you’d like to explore related to your subtopics

  • For example:
    • Questions related to education:
      • What is the future of online education?
      • Is the traditional education model the most effective?
      • Does the Common Core result in better prepared students?
      • What are the effects of moving toward STEM education?
      • How can we better fund education in America?
    • Questions related to crime:
      • Why are children being tried as adults?
      • How should drug offenses be addressed within the criminal justice system?
      • Is racial profiling affecting arrest demographics?
      • How can we best reform our over-populated prisons?

Once you have generated as many research questions as you can for narrowing the topic, choose the option that is most interesting to you and that you think will best fit the length and purpose of your assignment.

Focusing your Research Question

Your project’s focus will be the research question you choose to explore and the conclusions you reach.

Begin the research and writing process using the following tips:

  • Research your question: Now that you have a research question, you can begin exploring possible answers to it. Your research question allows you to begin researching in a clear direction.
  • Create a thesis statement: Once you have a clear understanding of your research question and have developed some answers or conclusions, you can create your thesis statement. Your paper or project will be an extension of your thesis statement where you explain and support your focused topic very specifically.
  • Remain flexible: As you continue researching, developing, and thinking about your focused topic and paper, you may find that you have new information, new answers, or conclusions about your topic. In this case, simply go back and modify your thesis. Most writers do not finalize their thesis statement until the last draft of their paper, so think about the focus as merely a starting guideline that is flexible and subject to change.