Choosing the research topic

3    Narrowing down the research topic

If the area chosen is still too broad, you need to move from a broad area to a more focused area.  The  topic should not be so broad that to treat with it properly will exceed a possible page limit or so narrow that you are unable to comply with the length requirements of the research assignment; i.e. the ideal is that you can complete a proper research paper in keeping with  the length and time frame requirements and of the required quality. 

The following video sheds some light on how a broad topic can be narrowed down.

There are several ways to determine the right topic.

1     Brainstorming – here you are trying to find key words to narrow down your topic.  keyword searches can reveal sources of information on the various topics and can reveal concepts that can be checked.  keywords can help you to focus on the topic and determine major and minor topics. This short video can help in this regard.

2     You can create a concept map to display concepts and relationships.  What you are looking for are the various issues and to  choose one that is best suited to your research assignment.  Pay some attention to the concept map at the link.

3   You can Ask Questions

Asking questions is another way to narrow down an area for research.      Ask by using who ( person /population) what, (focus area/event) where (place/geographical location) and when (time).  It will be useful to do Google and other searches at this point.   Remember research questions should not be yes and no answers but should be open-ended which will lead to the clarification of the thesis statement.

In narrowing down your topic MIT libraries felt you should think of the who, what, when, where and why questions.  The website suggested that the following questions be asked

    • WHY the topic was chosen, what interest you and your opinion on it?
    • WHO are the information providers on this topic?  Check organizations affected by the topic or interested in it, etc. 
    • WHAT are the major questions for this topic?  its issues, etc.
    • WHERE is your topic important: at the local, national or international level, etc.?  
    • WHEN is/was your topic important?  Is it a current event or a historical issue, etc?  

Answering the above will help you to narrow your topic and arrive at a clear theme for the paper.

4    Hold discussions with others to Refine your topic

You should talk to experts on the topic.  This can help you to understand the topic better and to gain information that may be pertinent to the design and implementation of the research.  Allow them to speak freely of their concerns.

At this stage I will recommend that you check with your research supervisor/professor.  She or he can point to instances in which the topic you have highlighted for your research may have already been the subject of much research.  Ask for suggestions of possible topics given the work you have done. You can try to focus on a particular event, time, person or group, and/or place.  After these discussions, that can also include classmates, you may have to adjust the design of the research.

You can continue to search for information and may do literature review, a short survey or interview to inform the finalization of your research topic.

5    Write down everything you believe to be important about the topic

This is unstructured writing of the thoughts that enter your mind without trying to properly structure your writing.    Out of this exercise you should be able to identify important aspects of the topic and keywords  that can be later analyzed further.

6   Use books, library data bases and Internet key word sources to narrow the broad topic

Refine your topic by checking books, journals and reliable databases of information e.g. infotrac, psychinfo, umi proquest, electric library and ebscohost and Electric Library.  Search the internet for articles or look for reputable sponsor, universities, professional organization.  You can check with your librarian who also may be able to point you in the right direction.

 By now you are zeroing in on the research topic.  The key word search, concept map and questioning are key steps in the process. Remember you can do a case study such as a case study of project and stakeholder management failures: lessons learned.

Leave a Comment