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Library DIY

Self-help Guide for Navigating the Library

I need to turn my topic into a research question.

Strategies for Narrowing a Topic to a Focused Research Question

Usually researchers start out with a broad topic before narrowing it down and turning it into a question. These strategies can help with that process.

Background Reading

Do some background reading to learn about the current research being done on your topic and the types of questions that other scholars are asking. This can give you some ideas about possible topics and angles for your research. Reference sources like the ones listed below can help you find an angle on your topic and identify an interesting research question. If you are focusing on a particular academic discipline, you might do background reading in subject-specific encyclopedias

  • Points of View Reference Library - Controversial contemporary topic summaries and overviews of current issues. 

  • Oxford Reference Online - Full text subject encyclopedias, reference works, dictionaries, and handbooks in all disciplines. 
  • Gale Virtual Reference Library - Full text encyclopedias and reference books in all disciplines.

Concept Maps

Create a visual map of your topic that shows different aspects of the topic. Video on Concept Mapping for a Research Paper.

Think about questions related to your topic. For example, when researching the local food culture, you might consider:

  • Why do people buy local?
  • What specific food items are people more likely to buy local and why?
  • What are the economic aspects of buying local? Is it cheaper?
  • Do people in all socio-economic strata have access to local food?

The Five W's: Who, What, When, Where, and Why

These kinds of questions can help you brainstorm ways to narrow your question and develop a more specific focus for your research.