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Writing 10 (Haner): Manage Your Topic

Reading & Composition

Topic Selection

From Topic to Research Question using Who, What, When, Where, Why & How

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:  Why are some critics concerned about facial recognition technologies? 

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 facial recognition is a pretty broad topic, but looking at the relationship between facial recognition 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 facial recognition as an example:

  • facial recognition and privacy (what)
  • facial recognition and regulations (what)
  • facial recognition and law enforcement (who)
  • facial recognition and the United States (where)

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

Question 2:  How can regulations on facial recognition technology protect privacy?

 

About Research Questions

Forming a Research Question

  • By asking a research question, you are keeping an open mind about what the research may reveal. 
  • As you develop a research question, consider these criteria.
  • If you have an existing research question, see if your question is TRUE for these five criteria.  If so, then your research question is probably workable. 
thought bubble question

Criteria:

Your research question ...

  1. is not easily answered with a simple yes or no. 
It has some substance and requires explanation.
  1. has an underlying problem with social significance (local, national or international). 
It is important to someone other than just you!
  1. poses a genuine question and aims for neutrality.
It avoids using loaded language or suggesting a pre-determined answer.
  1. can be answered with reliable evidence.
It is re-searchable.  Others have already been contributing to this conversation.
  1. has appropriate scope.
It is not too narrow, nor too broad; it does not leave you with too much or too little information. 

Together: You will have to do some preliminary research to really discover if all of these statements are TRUE for your proposed research question.