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Narrowing Your Topic: Home

Resources & Steps to help narrowing your topic when conducting research.

Topic Narrowing Guides

Unsure of where to start on narrowing you topic? Try some of the below handouts to get you started.

Narrowing Your Topic

Have you been assigned a research paper, but you don't know where to start? That's okay! Many students struggle with topic selection. One of the most common issues is picking a topic too broad for the scope of the paper.

Why are broad topics a problem?

  • You could find too much information, making it difficult to select which information to include and which to exclude.
  • You might find information that is too general, making it difficult to compose a clear thesis statement.
  • You find information that covers a wide variety of ideas that can't all be covered in one paper, causing you to go off on unnecessary tangents.

What can you do to narrow your topic?

You first will want to gather some background on your topic. Ask yourself some of the following questions:

  • What are the main concepts of this topic?
  • What are the issues surrounding this topic?
  • What are some key terms that are being used to describe the topic?

If you need to present an opinion or argument about your topic, supported with academic resources, another good option is to formulate consequence based question, such as "What are the consequences of X on Y?" Here are some examples of what that may look like:

  • What are the consequences of allowing individuals to conceal and carry handguns on college campuses?
  • What are the consequences of not basing college admission on standardized tests?
  • What are the consequences of erasing student loan debt on our economy?

Lastly, you can use the worksheets to the left of this column as a guideline. Using the 5 W's (Who, What, Where, When, and Why) can another way to narrow a topic.


Adapted from Finding & Narrowing Your Topic LibGuide, BYU Libraries, https://guides.lib.byu.edu/stepbystep and Narrowing a Topic Idea, USC Libraries, https://libguides.usc.edu/writingguide/narrowtopic

Completely stumped on finding a topic? First, take a deep breath! It's normal to struggle even thinking about a topic.

While your final topic should never be broad, it sometimes helps to start broad and then narrow. Ask yourself some questions to help brainstorm:

  • What am I interested in?
  • What have I heard in the news lately?
  • What is something is that is personally affecting me?
  • Is there something my family or friends are concerned about?

If you are still stumped, check reputable news websites to see what the top stories of the day might be or browse some of the issues databases the library has through GALILEO. Just be sure that the information you are reading could be considered a reliable source.


(Adapted from "Finding and Narrowing Your Topic, BYU Libraries, https://guides.lib.byu.edu/stepbystep)

Narrowing Your Topic Video

This video from North Carolina State University helps explain the topic selection and research cycle that often occurs when finding a topic.

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