Usually researchers start out with a broad topic before narrowing it down to a question. These strategies can help you move through that process.
Create a visual map of your topic that shows different aspects of the topic.
Think about questions related to your topic. These kinds of questions can help you brainstorm ways you might narrow your question. 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?
Reference sources can help you find an angle on your topic and identify a research question. Resources like Wikipedia, encyclopedias, and dictionaries can provide helpful overviews of a topic and help you identify key search terms. Databases like Oxford Reference Online can also help.
Note: Because Wikipedia is created through crowd-sourcing, evaluate Wikipedia pages by considering, for example, their references, length, and history (see the 'View history' and 'Talk' tabs).
(Adapted from George Mason University Writing Center's How to Write a Research Question, 2008)
A well-developed research question is clear, focused, and appropriately complex.
Unclear: Why are social networking sites harmful?
Clearer: How are online users experiencing or addressing privacy issues on such social networking sites as MySpace and Facebook?
Too broad: What are the global warming's environmental effects?
More focused: How is glacial melting affecting penguins in Antarctica?
Too simple: How are doctors addressing diabetes in the U.S.?
Appropriately complex: What are common traits of those suffering from diabetes in America, and how can these commonalities be used to aid the medical community in prevention of the disease?
Your research question and the information you find will help you develop your thesis (your proposed answer to your research question). Be sure, however, to consider varying approaches to your question before determining your thesis.
Example of Narrowing a Research Topic & Developing a Thesis
Topic ideas: organic food, labeling, food safely
→ Background research on topic ideas
→ Narrowing of topic: The influence of business on organic food labeling
→ In-depth research on narrowed topic
→ Working thesis: Differing business interests invested in organic foods have greatly influenced food labeling laws in the United States.
After you develop a question and do research, you'll want to analyze your findings and draw conclusions. Credo Reference has a brief video addressing this (if you are off campus, you will need to log in to view the video).