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Narrowing Down Research Topic: Ultimate Guide With Examples

narrowing down research topic

For most students, narrowing down a research topic makes a huge difference between how they carried out the research while in high school and how they should conduct their research projects in college.

Choosing a suitable research topic requires that you work from outside in. Often, you’ll start with a broader topic and narrow it down to a level where you can establish what you’d like to find out rather than only what you’d like to “write about.”

Whether you’ve been given a general topic to investigate, given several problems to study, or you need to come up with your own topic to study, you should ensure that the research problem’s scope underpinning the study isn’t too broad.

A Step-by-Step Example on Narrowing a Research Topic

To narrow down a specific topic, follow these steps:

1. Choose a general topic area.

An example could be employee turnover.

2. Give specific description of the topic area.

Example: turnover in the nursing industry

3. Mention an aspect of the specific topic:

Example: factors that affect turnover among registered nurses

To narrow down a topic’s focus, follow these steps:

4. Note down extra specifics about the topic.

Example: Workplace stress and turnover among registered nurses.

5. Turn the topic into a sentence or statement.

Example: Workplace stress has a significant impact on turnover among registered nurses.

6. Fine-tune your topic’s focus using elements such as time, place, and relationship.

Example: Workplace stress causes increased turnover among registered nurses in Brooklyn.

What’s Too Broad?

College students get tired when an instructor tells them that the topic they chose is too broad. This problem is very common. How do you tell if your topic is too broad?

If you’ve summed up the topic in one or two words, such as education, school cheating, corporal punishment, smoking, or overweight teens, it’s obviously too broad.

If you visit the library and realize you are staring at a whole section of books that you can use as sources for your study topic, then the topic is too broad. A good topic should address a specific problem or question. You should spot four to five books (or even fewer) on a shelf that can effectively address a specific research problem.

If you can’t easily come up with a thesis statement for your research paper, then chances are your topic is too broad.

The Dangers Of Not Narrowing Down

If you don’t do that, you’ll find it challenging to handle the study problem on the time and space provided. You might face a couple of issues if you choose to write on a very broad PhD research topic. The issues include:

  • Finding tons of sources of information, which makes it difficult to choose what to omit or include, or what’s the most essential.

  • Finding generic information that makes it tricky to come up with a clear framework for addressing the research problem

  • Lack of adequate parameters to effectively define the research problem makes it challenging to identify and use correct methods required for its analysis.

  • You come across information that addresses a wide array of concepts that can’t be included in a single paper. Consequently, you easily get into unnecessary details.

When starting to write a research paper, there’s a common challenge – determining how to narrow down a research topic.

Even if the professor assigns you a specific topic of study, you’ll still be required to narrow it down to some degree. Besides, the professor will find it boring to mark fifty papers talking about the same thing.

That’s why you should narrow your study’s focus early in the writing process. That way, you won’t try to do too much in one research paper.

Tips For Narrowing A Research Topic


Select one lens and use it for viewing a research problem. The other alternative is to focus on just one angle. For example, instead of studying the different factors that cause cancer, study how smoking can cause lung cancer.


Figure out if the initial unit or variable of analysis can be partitioned into smaller components, so you analyze them with more precision. For example, a study on the use of tobacco among teenagers can be narrowed down to chewing tobacco instead of all forms of tobacco use or teenagers in general. A better approach would be to focus on male teenagers in a specific age range and region who chew tobacco.


The methods used to gather data can reduce the scope of interpretive analysis required to address your research problem. For example, you can design a single case study to generate data that won’t require an extensive explanation as that of using multiple cases.


In general, analyzing a smaller geographical unit means a narrow topical focus. For example, instead of studying trade relations in Asia, focus on trade relations between China and Singapore as a case study to guide you in explaining problems in that region.


Find out how two or more variables or perspectives relate to each other. When you design a study around the correlation of different variables, it helps you to reduce the scope of your analysis. Examples of variables to look out for are:

  • Cause and effect

  • Group and individual

  • Compare and contrast

  • Contemporary and historical

  • Problem and solution

  • Male and female

  • Opinion and reason


Study periods can be assigned timeframes. Generally, the shorter a study’s time period, the more narrow its focus becomes. For example, instead of studying trade relations between China and Singapore, focus on the trade relations between China and Singapore between 2010 and 2018.


Focus the study topic with regard to a particular class of people, phenomena, or places. For instance, a study of developing better housing near schools may focus on condominiums, universities, or building materials only.


You can choose at least two of the above tips to narrow down to a specific topic.

Narrowing Down A Research Topic Is Vital – Use Our Advice!

In sum, you can use the broad topic given by your instructor to narrow down, or you can come up with your own topic first and narrow it down (some teachers give this freedom). Either way, you should ensure your narrowed topic is specific and more of a sentence than just a couple of words.

Remember, you want to be able to write a good thesis statement from the topic and proceed to write a paper on it. You can ask for feedback from your friends or instructor to confirm the topic is good and worth writing about. As you can see, it’s easier to write on a specific topic than one that’s too broad.

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