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Topic Selection

A solid, focused topic will help your research go more smoothly. If a topic is too broad, you will be overwhelmed by the amount of information you have to dig through. If it's too narrow, you may not find any information at all. It may be tempting to use Google to help you choose a topic. But you may end up spending a lot of time looking and end up choosing something that doesn't interest you much. It's better to start with what you already know. Here are few things you can do to choose a better, more interesting topic for your research.

LOOK AT THE PROMPT

If this is for a class assignment, read the assignment prompt carefully. If your instructor has provided a list of topics, then choosing one is a little easier. Find the one that interests you most. If no topics are provided, you can complete the following process. Click on the arrows to jump to a specific part of the process.

Brainstorm

Choose a broad topic and write down everything that you already know. Don't worry about organization.

Mind Map

Organize the ideas from your brainstorm by looking for subtopics. Create a visual map of how the ideas relate.

Question

Choose a branch of your mind map. Write a focused question that will help you achieve the purpose of the assignment.

Revise

If your question isn't getting the results you want, revise it. It may be too broad or too narrow. It's okay to revise several times.

Topic Selection
Brainstorming

BRAINSTORMING

Look at the prompt again. Determine what the purpose of the research assignment is: inform, argue, explain, analyze. If it's to inform, ask yourself, "What is something that I think is important that people know, or what is something that I like telling people about?" For example, cooking. Or if your purpose is to argue, ask yourself, "What is a topic that I have strong beliefs on, or what is something really important that you think people should care about?" For example, the environment.

 

Now, write or type that word. Then write everything that pops into your mind related to that word. Don't worry about connecting your ideas. Just do a brain dump and jot down any idea that enters your head. Give yourself at least 5 minutes to brainstorm.

Mind Mapping

MIND MAPPING

To create a mind map, place your topic word in the middle of your paper. Then look at your brainstorming. Try to find patterns of ideas: Which words seem to fit in a similar subtopic? For example, for the topic of cooking, you may notice that ideas fit under seasonings, utensils, and recipes. Draw branches off the word "cooking" and label them with these subtopics. Then continue adding branches. Break down the subtopics by adding more ideas from your brainstorm. You may even find that you think of new ideas, and that's great. Add them!

 

Check out this example of a mind map about cooking, and this mind map about the environment.

WRITE A RESEARCH QUESTION

Once you've mapped your ideas, it is time to form a question that will guide your research. The question will likely focus on one branch of the map; otherwise, the question may be too broad. When writing the question it's important to keep the assignment's purpose in mind. Let's look at some examples for the topic of cooking.

  • To Inform: How can you maintain a healthy diet by cooking at home?

    • This question asks you to research what a healthy diet is and how to cook healthy at home. ​

    • The question is narrow enough that you know where to focus your research, but it is broad enough that you can consult multiple sources.

  • To Argue: Is eating processed foods a significant factor in the growing obesity numbers in the United States?

    • While this doesn't seem to have a direct link to cooking, maybe you formed the question because your map had ideas about healthy eating and why it's important.​

    • Sometimes a yes or no question is too limiting, but in this case, it's probably okay. It is focused on processed foods and their impact on obesity. It leaves open the possibility that there are other factors that may be more significant.

Helpful Videos about Writing a Research Question

Research Question
Revise

REVISE YOUR QUESTION AS NEEDED

Sometimes in the research process, you may find that your question isn't working for you.

 

Maybe you are finding too many resources and don't know what to choose. That means your question was too broad.

 

Maybe you can't find anything on your topic. That probably means the question was too narrow.

Maybe you just find something that is more interesting and that will help you better achieve your research goal.

Whatever the reason, it is okay to change your question. But do remember that your teacher may need to approve the new topic. Let's look at an example.

Let's say that your original research question was "Is obesity a problem in the United States?" When you research this question, you find resources on health impacts, affect on the health care system, mortality rates, childhood obesity, portion sizes, etc. It's a little overwhelming because you can't possibly address all of these in a 5-page research paper. This means the original question is too broad.

Revise the question to "Is eating processed foods a significant factor in the growing obesity numbers in the United States?" This question accepts that yes, obesity is a problem, but it allows you to argue one aspect of the problem. This is much more manageable for a 5-page essay.

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