Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.
Library Reopening Dashboard
Get the latest information on the status of library services and space.
 Ask a Question

Writing 10 (Mele): Refining Your Topic

College Reading & Composition

Finding Background Information

Narrow your Research Question with the 5 Ws

Picking a Topic Is Research (NCSU Libraries)

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:  How does college benefit students? (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, college is a pretty broad topic, but looking at the relationship between college and student participation in clubs and extracurriculars 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 college as an example:

  • college and life satisfaction (what)
  • college and student organizations (what)
  • college and students (who)
  • college and the United States (where)

Use who, what, when, where, why or how (two or three) to develop a research question on the topic of college:

Question 2:  Does participation in clubs and extracurricular activities while in college lead to greater life satisfaction for graduates? (narrowed)