How to Narrow Down on a Research Topic

Choosing a research topic is often more difficult than conducting the research itself. It requires careful deliberation and proper planning because the course of your whole research depends on you picking a good topic in the first place. A good research topic is precise, practical, and also something that answers important questions and helps in taking the subject knowledge further. 

The most effective way to go about this process is to go step by step: making a list of the topics that interest you, eliminating options to fine-tune your shortlist, and finally zeroing in on a specific topic and title that offers opportunities for new insights. Here are a few steps you could follow:

  1. First, get a broad overview of the field/area you are looking to cover. For instance, if you’re looking at an issue like “Climate Change,” you need to first research what climate change is, where it is happening, who it is effecting, when it started, the time frame surrounding it, why it is happening, and finally, how it occurs. 
  2. Once you have sufficiently read up on the background, move on to step 2, which would involve dealing with more specifics regarding your topic. Now that you know the topic in more detail, identify key areas or issues related to it that you would want to work with, like “climate change in west africa” or “climate change and floods,” Here, you delve deeper into the subject, and prepare to ask the more difficult questions. 
  3. At this stage, you would have chalked out a rough idea of what you are interested in working with. Now, this idea needs to be converted into the form of a more simplified plan and procedure. You can begin noting down specific questions related to the topic like “Are people in west Africa more likely to be affected by climate change than others?” or “How does flooding affect the lives of people in South Asia?” You will find that there are plenty of questions that can arise from a single topic, and at this stage, pay attention to each of these questions and jot them down. You also want to delve deeper into scholarly material that has already addressed this issue to find potential gaps that your research can probe. This will also help you with your bibliography as you make a list of your secondary and tertiary sources.
  4. Now that there is a set of questions ready, go through them and sort out the ones that you feel would be appropriate for your research study. Pay attention to simplifying the questions, and ensuring that each of them can be answered through proper scientific research. Keep striking off the ones you think are not fit, until you come to a final question that you are satisfied with. You will know which one is worth researching, if it is:
    1. Interesting. Your research question needs to be thought-provoking and captivating. There’s no good pursuing a topic that is going to bore you out in the long run.
    2. New. This should not be a question that has been addressed by previous research studies, and should not be an overly redundant topic that would not contribute any new knowledge and findings.
    3. Ethical. Research essentially is done to broaden educational understanding of the subject, and to contribute beneficial and new findings to the field, which would help in more development and growth. It is therefore essential that this progress is not done at the expense of an ethical and moral code. Research that would involve harmful animal or human testing, or use procedures that could be environmentally destructive, are some of the things you must make sure the research project avoids. 
    4. Feasible. Your research needs to be doable in a scientific method with a practical amount of subjects and available equipment. Consider budget constraints, resource allocation, and other practical issues as you draft your proposal.

If you end up with a particular question at the end that you feel is not specific enough, break it down into simpler points, and then proceed either to choose which of these points you want to continue with, or frame a question that would sufficiently cover two or three topics together. Keep in mind that once you’ve narrowed down on a particular question or point that you want to deal with, framing a good research question and a hypothesis becomes simpler. 

What other tips have you found helpful as you’ve tried to narrow down on a research topic? Do share your insights and experiences in the comments below.

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