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Focusing A Research Topic

Focusing A Research Topic

How to Focus

Try one of the methods on this page to learn more about what you want to research.

Who-What-Why Method

  1. First start out with a general topic. Take the topic and break it down into categories by asking the five W’s and H.
    1. Who? (American Space Exploration)
    2. What? (Manned Space Missions)
    3. Where? (Moon Exploration)
    4. When? (Space exploration in the 1960's)
    5. Why? (Quest to leave Earth)
    6. How? (Rocket to the Moon: Space Exploration)
  2. Now consider the following question areas to generate specific ideas to narrow down your topic.
    1. Problems faced?

      (Sustaining Life in Space: Problems with space exploration)

    2. Problems overcome?

      (Effects of zero gravity on astronauts)

    3. Motives

      (Beating the Russians: Planning a moon mission)

    4. Effects on a group?

      (Renewing faith in science: aftershock of the Moon mission)

    5. Member group?

      (Designing a moon lander: NASA engineers behind Apollo 11)

    6. Group affected?

      (From Test Pilots to Astronauts: the new heroes of the Air force)

    7. Group benefited?

      (Corporations that made money from the American Space Program)

    8. Group responsible for/paid for _____

      (The billion dollar bill: taxpayer reaction to thecost of sending men to the moon)

Adapted from Utah State University Library

Fill-In-The-Blanks! Method

You may find the following table to be a helpful way to organize your data.  Keep in mind that this is NOT your thesis statement, just a tool to focus your research.  If you can fill out this table, you most likely have a narrow enough topic with enough direction to perform some great research.

1)  I am researching ____________ (topic)
2)  because I want to find out _______ (issue/question)
3)  in order to _______ (application - so what?)


  •  I am researching speech impairments in children (topic)
    • because I want to find out if an older sibling with a speech problem affects a younger sibling (issue/question)
    • in order to convince my principal the need for family therapy (application - audience).
  • I am researching ethanol as an alternative fuel (topic)
    • because I want to find out the pros and cons of its use and formulate my opinion (issue/question)
    • in order to persuade my readers that my position is correct (application - audience).
  •  I am researching ways to teach English as a second language (topic)
    • because I want to find out the most effective strategies available (issue/question)
    • in order to prepare me to be a better teacher (application - purpose).
  • I am researching autism in children (topic)
    • because I want to find out how best to socially interact with them (issue/question)
    • in order to better accomplish my service learning experience. (application - project).
  • I am researching genetically modified foods (topic)
    • because I want to find out if they are nutritionally better than organic foods (issue/question)
    • in order to produce a brochure summarizing the issues for my English Writing class. (application - project).

Adapted from Brigham Young University Library

Key Concepts Method

  • Identify key concepts to do with your topic.
  • Analyze for concepts
  • Keep track of the words used to describe your topic.
  • To successfully search online article databases and the Internet you need to be specific in asking for what you want - and sometimes get creative.
Research Idea Concept 1 Concept 2   Concept 3
I want to know about smoking.
Does smoking cause cancer? smoking    


To what extent do teens know smoking causes cancer?




Add synonyms and related words. List synonyms and related terms (keywords) for each concept. This will expand your search capabilities.

Example: I want to look at using wind to generate power in California.
Keywords to use: wind power, wind generation, wind generators, California (might also try West Coast, United States)

Example: Some sources may use capital punishment while others may use the term death penalty.
The more related terms you try while doing research, the more successful you will be.

Adapted from Oklahoma City Community College library