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Writing 10 (Kennedy): Refining Your Topic

Library Resources for Background Info

Picking a Topic Is Research (NCSU Libraries)

5W + 1H Method

  • Who are people or major figures associated with the topic? (e.g., Malcolm X, Albert Einstein, specific populations, students, kittens)
  • What is the description of the topic? What is happening? What is the relationship between your concepts? 
  • Where does your research question take place? (e.g., Eastern Europe, basal ganglia, California)
  • When does the topic take place? This can often be combined with “where” (e.g., Jurassic Era, 21st-century inner-city Chicago, 1960s San Francisco)
  • Why is this topic significant? Why is this research important?
  • How can your topic be measures or tested? How can it be solved? 

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 do people want to be happy? (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 with any depth. 

Most scholarly research examines fairly narrow topics and looks at relationships between concepts.  For example, happiness is a pretty broad topic, but looking at its relationship to concepts such as the gig economy or romantic relationships might make it more manageable.

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

  • happiness and popular culture (what)
  • happiness and interpersonal relationships (what)
  • happiness and corporations (who)
  • happiness  and teenagers (who) and music (what)

Use W questions, to develop a research question on the topic of happiness:

Question 2:  Does making money from hobbies make people happier? (narrowed)