Choosing a Topic

The first step in the research process is deciding on your topic.  What are you interested in studying? Once you’ve decided on your area of research, you need to consider the scope of your topic. Some topics may be too broad for short research papers, while others may be too narrow. Once you’ve decided on a topic, think about the question you want to ask. Research requires a question to be answered so what it is about that topic that you want to know?

But, how do you broaden a topic? This is actually easier than narrowing one but the steps are fairly simple.  Let’s say you want to write about the use of fire in the story of Elijah’s ascent in the fiery chariot.  This topic is probably not too broad for some papers but might be too narrow for others.  To broaden it, you might choose to just focus on the use of fire in the story of Elijah, rather than in one aspect of his story.

The principles are similar for narrowing.  If you find yourself overwhelmed with information, think of a way to make your topic more specific.  In the example above, switching from a larger study of fire in the Elijah stories to one particular incident is a good narrowing technique.  You need to be careful not to overdo it though or you’ll have to back up to a broader topic again.

Once you’ve decided on a manageable topic, try to come up with key concepts. For example, if you’re interested in the impact of alcoholism on families, your key concepts will be alcohol , family , or related terms such as substance abuse or codependency. These concepts will assist you when you go to indexes, the library catalog, or search engines to gather more information.