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The Importance of Narrowing a Research Topic

Whether assigned a general issue to investigate, you are given a list of problems to study, or you have to identify your own topic to investigate, it is important that the research problem that guides your study is not too broad, otherwise, it will be very difficult to adequately address the problem in the space and time allowed. You could experience a number of problems if your topic is too broad, including:

  • You find too many information sources and, as a consequence, it is difficult to decide what to include or exclude or what are the most important.
  • You find information that is too general and, as a consequence, it is difficult to develop a clear framework for examining the research problem
  • A lack of sufficient parameters that clearly define the research problem makes it difficult to identify and apply the proper methods needed to analyze it.
  • You find information that covers a wide variety of concepts or ideas that can't be integrated into one paper and, as a consequence, you easily trail off into unnecessary tangents.

Tips to Narrow a Research Topic

A topic is too broad to be manageable when you find that you have too many different, and oftentimes conflicting or only remotely related, ideas about how to investigate the research problem. Although you will want to start the writing process by considering a variety of different approaches to studying the research problem, you will need to narrow the focus of your investigation at some point early in the writing process. This way, you don't attempt to do too much in one paper.

Here are some strategies to help narrow your topic into something more manageable:

  • Aspect -- choose one lens through which to view the research problem, or look at just one facet of it.
  • Components -- determine if your initial variable or unit of analysis can be broken into smaller parts, which can then be analyzed more precisely.
  • Methodology -- the way in which you gather information can reduce the domain of interpretive analysis needed to address the research problem.
  • Place -- generally, the smaller the geographic unit of analysis, the more narrow the focus.
  • Relationship -- ask yourself how do two or more different perspectives or variables relate to one another. Designing a study around the relationships between specific variables can help constrict the scope of analysis.
  • Time -- the shorter the time period of the study, the more narrow the focus.
  • Type -- focus your topic in terms of a specific type or class of people, places, or phenomena.
  • Combination -- use two or more of the above strategies to focus your topic very narrowly.