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From Topic to Question

From Topic to Question: Narrow Your Research Topic Using Sources

Read library and online sources about your topic to help you develop a focused research question (or thesis).

Stages of Question Becoming Narrower Example Types of Sources


TIP: Think of the 6 Question Words to help you narrow: Who, What, Where, When, Why, How

Climate Change Background Information (Wikipedia, Books)
Broad Question (What) What is the effect of climate change on the environment? Secondary Sources (Scholarly Articles, general histories like books)
More Specific Question How is climate change affecting glaciers? Secondary Sources (Scholarly Articles, case studies, specific books)
Research Question (Who, What, & Where) How is glacial melting affecting wildlife in Alaska? Primary Sources (Research Articles, Newspapers, Data & Statistics)

TIP: How specific you get depends on the assignment and how much time you have to complete it.

Your question needs to be narrow enough to work on in the time allotted and broad enough to find sources. If your question requires data collection or obscure primary sources, it may not be feasible for a semester-length paper.

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Adapted from an original by Shonn Haren, 2015.

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) License

Created for educational purposes by: Bronwen K. Maxson (bmaxson[at] and Nico Floresca (nicof[at]