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Writing 10 (Ayik): Refine Your Topic

College Reading & Composition

Topic Selection

Narrow your Research Question with the 5 Ws

Finding the Right Scope for Your Topic

Narrow Your Topic or Research Question

It's very common to select a topic or formulate a question that starts out too broad

Question 1:  To what extent is social media a problem for society? (broad)

When the scope of your topic is too big, it's hard to dig through the huge volume of information available to find something relevant.  It's also hard to write a paper or give a presentation of with any depth. 

Most scholarly research examines fairly narrow topics and looks at relationships between concepts.  For example, social media is a pretty broad topic, but looking at the relationship between social media and privacy might be a more manageable topic.

There are many ways to narrow a topic that is too broad by asking one or more W questions.  Let's use social media as an example:

  • social media and privacy (what)
  • social media and "facial recognition" (what)
  • social media and teenagers (who)
  • social media and the United States (where)

Use how, what, or where (two or three) to develop a research question on the topic of social media:

Question 2:  Will social media's use of facial recognition destroy privacy? (narrowed)


Search vs. Research