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ENGL 1A Swanson

Develop Your Topic

Before you develop your research topic or question, you'll need to do some background research first.

Some good places to find background information:

  • Your textbook or class readings
  • Encyclopedias and reference books
  • Credible websites
  • Library databases

Try the library databases below to explore your topic. When you're ready, move on to refining your topic.

Find Background Information:

Now that you've done some background research, it's time to narrow your topic. Remember: the shorter your final paper, the narrower your topic needs to be. Here are some suggestions for narrowing and defining your topic:

  • Is there a specific subset of the topic you can focus on?
  • Is there a cause and effect relationship you can explore?
  • Is there an unanswered question on the subject?
  • Can you focus on a specific time period or group of people?

Describe and develop your topic in some detail. Try filling in the blanks in the following sentence, as much as you can:

I want to research ____(what/who)____

and ____(what/who)____

in ____(where)____

during ____(when)____

because ____(why)____


Narrowing your topic makes it more specific, which makes it easier to research and write about.

Upsidedown triangle showing how to narrow your research topic from broad (immigration) to more specific (how does immigration impact the economy) to even more specific (What job sectors have the highest numbers of immigrants?  Has that changed over time - e.g. 2020 to 1980 to 1940?

Picking your topic is part of the research process.  This video from NCSU Library describes how picking your topic is research.