Now that you have a topic idea in mind and you've done a little pre-search, it's a good time to make sure the topic is "just right" - not too broad or not too narrow.
If your topic can be summed up in a word or two, like smoking, school violence, education, overweight kids, capital punishment, World War II, or rap music, your topic is too broad.
One reliable method to use to narrow a topic is to narrow it by asking questions about your topic such as: Who, What, Where, and When.
Look at the example from the graphic below.
The student has picked the very broad topic of eating disorders, because her teacher said to pick a topic that can affect teenagers. Many books have been written about eating disorders and the topic interests her because she has a cousin who suffers from an eating disorder.
Eating disorders is a very broad topic, so now the student can try to narrow her topic using who, what, where, and when questions. She can use a worksheet to help her narrow her topic, as illustrated below.
Using a series of questions, you can narrow down your topic into a well-defined research topic. Use this graphic to help you narrow down your research topic into something that is "just the right size" for your assignment.
Think about each of the four context areas, and how they relate to your topic.
WHEN - This would be a time frame. It could be a current or historical view. It can also be a period in life, such as middle age, elderly, or adolescence.
WHERE - This would be locations or places. It could be regions, states, countries, etc. It could also be places like school, the workplace, college.
WHAT - This would be events or types of something, depending on the topic.
WHO - This would be the person, group, or a population defined by gender, race, ethnicity, educational level, nationality, occupation, species, or age.
After completing the worksheet, she could narrow her topic to - The prevalence of bulimia in low-income teenage girls in the United States.
You can also consider the following question areas to generate specific ideas to narrow down your topic:
1. Problems faced in relation to your topic?
2. Problems overcome in relation to your topic?
3. Motives for your topic?
4. Effects on a group in relation to your topic?
5. Group affected by your topic?
6. Group benefited by your topic?
Asking these types of questions about your topic can help you form the focused research questions which will enable you dig deeper into your topic.
Adapted from Butler Senior High School Library