Narrowing Down A Research Paper Topic

Can you focus your project on a specific aspect of the topic?

Most issues or concepts can be subdivided into narrower issues or concepts. If you can't subdivide your topic, then, most of the time, your topic is as narrow as it can get. In addition, it is probably better suited to a short or small project than a long or substantial one.

Can you narrow your topic to a specific time period?
  • Restricting your topic to a specific time period can narrow most topics. Many activities or things exist through time. Restricting yourself to that activity or thing within a specific time period reduces the amount of material you have to cover.

For example, armies and soldiers have existed from before recorded history. Restricting yourself to "Army life during World War II" or "Army life in Ancient Egypt" reduces the scope of what you need to cover.

HINT: there is likely to be a lot more primary and secondary material on army life in world war II than there is on army life in ancient Egypt simply because more information from recent centuries has survived than from ancient centuries.

Can you narrow your topic to a specific event?

Restricting your topic to a specific event is another way to narrow a topic. However, the amount of information available on a specific event will depend upon the relative importance of that event.

For example, you will find more information on the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki than you will on the bomb used by robbers to blow up the safe of a bank.

Can you narrow your topic to a specific geographic area?

Many topics can be limited to a specific region of the country or the world.

For example, "Wolves" can be limited to "Arctic Wolves".

Can you narrow your topic to a specific problem or question?

Many types of problems or questions are possible and can aid in narrowing a topic to an appropriate size.

For example

Compare/Contrast
Compare and contrast the beliefs of secular humanists with Christian fundamentalists
Cause/Effect
What are the causes of soil erosion and what is the effect of eroded soil on crop productivity
Problem/Solution
Increasing educational advertisements about the dangers of smoking can reduce the numbers of teenagers who smoke.
Opinion/Reason
Taliban control of Afghanistan and its relationship with the Al Qaeda terrorists is due to the failure of the U.S. to engage in "nation building" after the Soviet Union withdrew in the 1980s.
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