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Research Paper - How to Guide: Refine Your Topic

Define/Refine Your Topic


Your Research Assignment

Make sure you clearly understand your assignment and its requirements. If you have doubts, speak  with your classmates or instructor to get clarification.

Read through the information below to find out how to define and refine your topic.

Step 1: Define Your Topic

Step 1: Define Your Topic

Before you start in-depth research you need to make sure your topic is:

  • well defined
  • not too broad
  • not too specific. 

Often this is hard to do if you know very little about the subject area.  To help refine your topic you can do some background reading using sources like encyclopedias, handbooks, even Wikipedia! 

Once you have a basic understanding you can focus your topic to one or more aspects such as:

  • Time - past, present, future, 20th century, etc.
  • Place - Victoria, BC, Canada, North America, Africa, etc.
  • People - children, teenagers, gender groups, nationalities, physical characteristics, etc.
  • Perspective - psychological, sociological, economic, political, ethical, etc.

Step 2: Refine Your Topic

Step 2: Refine Your Topic

A finely tuned research topic will usually read as a multi-concept, open-ended question.  This is different from a brief factual question.  A brief, factual question can usually be answered in a single sentence, and will have a right or wrong answer.  An open ended question will require more research, can have many answers, and is subject to debate.

Examples of Brief, Factual Questions:

   What is globalization?

   What year was the Euro currency implemented?

   Who wrote the book The Tipping Point?

Examples of Open Ended Questions:

   How does globalization affect women in developing countries?

   How does Facebook use impact college students' academic achievement?

One way to develop your research question is by creating a concept map. A concept map is used to map out our ideas and identify key concepts associated with the idea. In the center of the concept map you have your main idea. Your main idea is then branches off more specific or narrow ideas related to that topic.

Finding a Topic

Finding a Topic


Having a hard time finding a topic that interests you? Here are some ways to generate ideas....

  • scan current events in newspapers and magazines
  • look at websites like Stumbleupon, Pinterest, etc.
  • talk to your instructor
  • visit the Research Help Desk in the Library OR Contact a Librarian