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Define, Refine and Develop Your Topic: Refine

This guide will help you identify and focus your research topic.
Last Updated: Sep 8, 2021 10:26 AM

Refining or Narrowing Your Topic

Once you have chosen a general topic idea, the next step is to refine and focus your topic.  This process should help you formulate your research question.

A topic that is too broad or vague can be refined by focusing on some specific aspects of the topic.
View RIT Libraries’ LIV@RIT, Module Two:  Choosing Topics:  http://library.rit.edu/liv/2

Example: History of the automobile in the United States

This topic, as stated, is much too broad you could right an entire book on this! The topic can be limited in a number of ways, such as focusing on a specific:

  • Time period
  • Development of the automobile in the U.S. during the Roaring Twenties
  • Geographic area
  • Introduction of the auto into large urban areas.
  • Specific group
  • The effect of the United Auto Workers union on the General Motors Corp.
  • Specific individual
  • The influence of Henry Ford and the use of the assembly line in auto production.
  • Specific event
  • The effect of the federal Interstate Highway System on auto travel.

The graphic below illustrates the process of moving from a broad and very general topic to a more focused and refined topic.

What is a Research Question?

A research question is the fundamental core of a research project, study, or review of literature. It focuses the study, determines the methodology, and guides all stages of inquiry, analysis, and reporting.


Once you have defined the topic you would like to research, the next step in the process is formulating your research question. The research question should be focused and specific. A good research question should involve research and not something that can be simply answered by consulting an encyclopedia or a quick Google search. A strong research question will likely contain more than one possible answer or theory. 


Referring to the inverted pyramid diagram above, the research question could become: How did Henry Ford and his use of the assembly line influence future auto production?

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