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Narrowing down your research paper topic

Far too often, when students turn in their research topic to their professor for approval, they’re told that it’s too broad. This is undoubtedly a result of the incredibly broad topics one is tasked with researching in grade school; it becomes a habit to choose sweeping subjects. No matter the reason, it can be enormously frustrating to a student who hasn’t been taught an effective strategy for choosing an appropriately specific topic of research for their paper.

How to Narrow Your Topic Down Easily

The first difficulty students usually come to is that they’ve chosen a topic (or been assigned one) about which they know very little. They’re unsure of how to narrow it down because they don’t know anything more specific about it. It’s difficult to choose a more specific topic, when you don’t even know what specific subtopics there might be. These steps will help:

A little light reading

Since the primary challenge you face is the fact you don’t know much about the topic, it’s time to learn a little more. That doesn’t mean you need to jump headfirst into in-depth research. On the contrary, just do a bit of web browsing on the topic in general, pick up a general book or magazine article or two and skim them. What you’re looking for isn’t content for your paper, but simply mentions of more specific subtopics or questions about the general topic which interest you. Make a list of five to ten of these ideas, concepts, and questions.

Research Dry Run

Now that you have a list to work from, choose three of the subtopics that interest you and do a research dry run with those topics as the focus. What does that mean? You don’t need to take notes or do any serious reading. Instead, just perform a few searches on the types of source material you’ve been assigned to use as the content of your paper to see if there’s plenty of information available about that subtopic. If there are copious amounts of source material and they seem to go in a many different directions, you may very well need to explore the topic a bit more and choose something more specific from it. If, on the other hand, there’s plenty of material but it seems fairly focused, you’ve probably found a topic appropriate for a quality research paper.

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