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COM101/111: Introduction to Research & APA Citation

Narrowing Your Research Topic

A topic that is too general or broad will make it more challenging to effectively discuss in your assignment. A broad topic will also bring up too many results in your search, making it hard to browse and select relevant sources.

It's also important to not make your final research topic too narrow since this will make it challenging to write about. 

Tips for narrowing down your topic

To narrow down your research topic, consider the issues and perspectives covered in the sources from your background research. Another way of narrowing your research topic is to consider a combination of the following: Who, What, When, Where, How, and Why.

For example, a student is exploring the topic of online learning. Let' s see some ways of narrowing down the topic:

What, How, or Why: Consider some of the relevant issues, problems, or possible causes for your topic. Example: What are the challenges of online learning?
Who: Think about specific groups you can focus on, such as an age group, social group, occupation, or gender. Example: What are the challenges of online learning among college students?
When: Consider a historical period, year range, or historical event to help narrow your topic. Example: What are the challenges of online learning among college students during COVID-19?
Where: You can also narrow down by a specific geographic region, such as an area, country, or city. Example: What are the challenges of online learning among college students in North America during COVID-19?

Additional Resources:

What makes a good research topic or question?

Sometimes, it helps to frame your research topic as a question. Having a research question can help you structure your essay, infographic, and other assignments. By starting with a research question, you can identify the points and information to include in your assignment which best answers the research question. Consider the following when developing your final research topic or question:


It's important to make your research topic/question clear and narrow enough so that you could effectively write about it. However, it's also important that you don't make it too narrow since this would make it challenging to research and discuss the topic.


 What factors affect mental health? Too broad. The question is too general which will make it difficult to discuss effectively in an assignment. You may also find too many sources making it tricky to choose the best ones.
 How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the mental health of grade 12 students in Toronto, Ontario?   Too narrow. The question is too specific which will make it challenging to find supporting sources and write about the topic. 
 How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted college students' mental health? Just right. The question is not too broad and not too narrow. This will make it possible to effectively find useful supporting sources and write about the topic.

Can be discussed

Your research topic/question should be open-ended, and requires more than a yes/no or single sentence answer. It should allow you to discuss the topic and provide supporting information from your sources.  


 How many Canadians used TikTok in 2020? Can't be discussed. This question can be answered with a sentence.
 How does social media contribute to the spread of COVID-19 misinformation? Can be discussed. This questions leaves room to discuss different supporting points.


Your research topic or question should not be answered by just your opinion. A good research question should be researchable which means that you can effectively search and find relevant sources which support your discussion of the topic.

It's also good to think about the types and amount of sources available on your topic. This may be particularly important if you're only permitted to use certain types of sources in your assignment. Some sources, such as books and journal articles, take a longer time to be published. If you've chosen a trending news topic and are required to use journal articles, it may be challenging to find sources because there may be no journal articles written about the topic. 


 What is the most delicious chocolate? Can't be researched. This question is subjective and answered with an opinion.
 What are the effects of chocolate consumption on stress levels? This question can be researched.

 Test Yourself