how to narrow down a research topic

How To Narrow Down a Research Topic

Once you’ve decided on a research topic, you’ll need to narrow it down into a thesis statement or a research question. You will save tens of hours because you will be able to conduct more focused searches much earlier in your research process as you complete this step.

As many tutors will explain, narrowing down a research topic not only simplifies your writing process but also encourages an in-depth investigation of the topic. It also shapes how you will conduct the research projects in high school and during undergraduate studies.

Selecting a great research topic necessitates approaching the problem from the outside in.  Starting with a broad topic and narrowing it down to the point where you can define what you’d like to discover rather than only what you’d like to “write about is always a good common practice.

If you’ve been provided with a general topic to explore, a set of problems to research, or you’ve been asked to come up with your own topic, you should make certain that the scope of the research problem relevant to this study isn’t overly broad before proceeding.

How to Narrow Down a Research Topic, with Examples

The good news is that you can follow the steps below to narrow down the focus of your entire paper to a specific topic:

1. Pick a broad topic area to focus on.

Begin by writing down your broad area of interest. Employee turnover, for instance, could be the general topic area.

2. Demographic factors

Every research study focuses on specific individuals. Pick your group of interest and narrow your research paper topic based on demographic factors.

Reduce the scope of your research paper by age group, occupation, ethnicity, gender, and so on.

For example, international college graduates who are entering the workforce face a number of difficulties.

3. Provide a detailed description of the subject matter.

As a good example, consider the nursing industry and its turnover.

4. Move down to an aspect of that specific topic you have identified

In the next step, consider the factors that influence turnover among registered nurses in a particular specialty area.

5. Make a list of any additional details about the subject.

As an illustration, consider the stress and turnover experienced by registered nurses in the emergency units.

6. Condense the topic into a single sentence or a single statement.

To explain this, let’s say workplace stress has a serious influence on the turnover of registered nurses in emergency departments across the United States.

7. Consider fine-tuning the topic using other elements such as time and correlation

An example of a fine-tuned topic is “Emergency Department stress is correlated with increased Turnover among nurses in Ohio, United States.

When is a Topic Too Broad?

When a professor tells a group of college students that the topic they chose is too broad, they get discouraged. This is a very common occurrence. What is the best way to determine whether your topic is too broad?

Even if you can summarize the subject in one or two words, such as school cheating, capital punishment, drug abuse, or overweight teens, the subject is obviously too broad to be considered in isolation.

Similarly, if you go to the library and realize that you are staring at a whole section of books that can be used as sources for your study subject, the topic is likely to be too broad. A good topic should be focused on a specific problem or question that needs to be addressed. If you are looking for books that can effectively address a specific research problem, you should look for four to five books (or even fewer) on a shelf.

The likelihood that your topic is too broad is increased if you have difficulty coming up with a thesis statement for your research paper.

The Problems of Not Narrowing Down the Topic

If you don’t do this, you will find it difficult to complete the study problem within the time and space constraints. The choice to write on a very broad PhD research topic may present a number of difficulties to the writer. The issues are as follows:

  • The abundance of information makes it difficult to decide what to omit or include, as well as which sources are the most important.
  • The difficulty in developing a clear framework for addressing the research problem stems from the difficulty in locating generic information.
  • Identifying and employing the appropriate methods for analyzing the research problem becomes difficult when there are insufficient parameters to effectively define the problem at hand.

Other challenges that you could encounter include:

  • Throughout your research, you come across information that addresses a diverse range of concepts that cannot be covered in a single paper. As a result, you are prone to getting bogged down in unnecessary details.
  • Beginning a research paper can be a difficult task because it requires deciding how to refine a research topic to a manageable size.
  • Even if your professor assigns you a specific topic of study, you will be expected to narrow it down to a certain extent. Aside from that, the professor will find it tedious to mark fifty papers that all discuss the same subject.

That is why you should narrow the scope of your research early on in the writing process. You won’t try to cram too much information into a single research paper this way.

Guidelines for Narrowing a Research Subject

(a) Multiple angles

One lens should be chosen and used to view a research problem in more detail. The other option is to narrow your attention to a single perspective. For example, instead of researching the various factors that contribute to cancer, researchers could look into how smoking can lead to lung cancer.

(b) Different components

Determine whether the initial unit or variable of analysis can be subdivided into smaller components, allowing you to analyze them with greater precision as you progress. An investigation into teenage tobacco use, for example, can be narrowed down to chewing tobacco only, rather than all forms of tobacco use or teenagers in general. A more effective strategy would be to target male teenagers who chew tobacco in a specific age range and geographic region.

(c) Methodological approach

Data collection methods can limit the scope of interpretive analysis required to address your research problem depending on the methods used to collect the data. For example, you can design a single case study to generate data that does not necessitate the same level of explanation as data generated from multiple case studies.

(d) Location of study

Overall, investigating a smaller geographical unit means focusing on a more specific topic area. Rather than studying trade relations in Asia, you could instead concentrate on trade relations between China and Malaysia as a case study to guide you through the process of explaining challenges in that region.

(e) Association between variables

Learn how two or more variables or are related to one another by conducting an investigation. When you design a study around the correlation of different variables, you are able to narrow the scope of your investigation. The following are some examples of variables to keep an eye out for:

  • compare and contrast
  • group vs individual
  • cause and effect
  • males and females
  • problem and solution
  • current and previous

(f) Timeframe variations

Researchers can assign timelines to study periods if desired. In general, the shorter the time span of a study, the more narrowly focused the study’s focus becomes. For example, instead of focusing on the trade relations between China and the United States, consider the trade relations between China and the U.S. between 2015 and 2020 as a whole.

(g) The phenomenon

Concentrate on a specific group of people, phenomena, or locations when researching a particular topic. As an example, a study on the development of better housing near schools may concentrate solely on condominiums, universities, or construction materials.

(h) Combining different small topics

You can pick at least two of the suggestions above to help you narrow down your search to a specific topic.

It is critical to narrow down a research topic. We hope the guidelines will be useful to you.


In summary, you can either narrow down a broad topic provided by your instructor, or you can develop your own topic first and narrow it down later after receiving feedback (some teachers give this freedom). In either case, you should make certain that your narrowed topic is specific and contains more than a couple of words rather than only a few word.

Always remember that you want to be able to write a strong thesis statement from the topic and then proceed to write a paper on it. You can seek feedback from your peers or your instructor to determine whether the topic is interesting and worth writing about. As you can see, writing on a specific topic is much easier than writing on a topic that is too broad.