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Do-It-Yourself Library: From Topic to Research Question

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. Watch this short video with a tip to narrow your topic.

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

  • Credo Reference- Topics connect users to real-time results from library-selected resources. 

  • Opposing Viewpoints (Gale in Context) - Controversial contemporary topic summaries and overviews of current issues. 

  • Access Science - Full text science and technology encyclopedia covering all major scientific disciplines. 

  • Gale eBooks- Full text encyclopedias and reference books in all disciplines. 

Concept Maps

Create a visual map your topic that shows different aspects of the topic. You can use free tools such as https://bubbl.us/ create a concept map of your topic and assignment.

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.


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