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Starting Your Research: Narrowing Your Topic

Narrowing Your Research Topic

It is possible that the topic you chose based on your interests is too broad for the assignment you need to do. You cannot write a 5 page paper on the topic of Feminism, for example. You would have too much information to work with and your paper would be a jumble of too many things.

You do not have to change your topic completely but there are ways to narrow it down to make it easier to research and write about.

Try the "KWL exercise"

Take the time to answer these questions about your topic:

  • Know: What do I already know about my topic?
  • Want to Know: What would I like to learn about my topic?
  • Learned: Keep note of new information as you learn more about your topic. This allows you to move back to the beginning of the exercise, but with more specific details that help you narrow the scope of the topic.


I am interested in doing my project on higher education in the United States. That topic is too broad right now so I need to narrow it down.

  • Know: Through my reading of news sources and some articles from the library databases, I know that the United States has different types of higher ed institutions: Community colleges, universities, vocational schools, and for-profit schools. 
  • Want to Know: I am interested in learning more about vocational schools in the United States, and how they compare with community colleges. I especially want to see how many students end up getting jobs after attending each type of school.
  • Learned: As I find articles and books on this topic, I am learning more about it, including more specific aspects. I can go back and update what I Know and then what I Want to Know which will help me narrow down my topic even more. Plus, I am doing research as I go along, which helps me build up the sources I need for the project I have.