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Writing 10 (Contreras): Manage Your Topic

College Reading & Composition

Topic Selection

Your Topics

Finding the Right Scope for Your Topic

By asking a research question, you are keeping an open mind about what the research may reveal. 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 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)

Here is a test you can try to see if your question is workable. Can you answer TRUE for these statements?  You will have to do some preliminary research to really discover if all of these statements are TRUE for your proposed research question.

  1. It is not easily answered with a simple yes or no. This means that it takes some explanation to answer.
  2. It has a problem associated with it. It isn't enough just to explain the problem. Can you think of or research possible solutions?
  3. It has social significance. 
  4. There is reliable evidence available to address it. What kind of information would you need to provide to show support or refute claims? Does the information exist? What does the information actually say?
  5. It has appropriate scope. How many pages does your assignment have to be? This will help you figure out what size of question to focus on. For example, do you need to come up with one solution or several solutions?