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Lemieux Library

Topic Development

On this page:

  • Tips for choosing a topic and developing a research question 
  • Examples and exercises to help you break a broad topic down into smaller subtopics

Ask yourself:

  • What are the requirements of my research assignment?
  • Within the scope of this assignment, what do I want to find out?
  • Is my topic broad enough to explore and narrow enough to be manageable? 

See also: Writing Center resources on decoding a prompt and brainstorming techniques, or make an appointment with a Writing Center consultant!

Choose a topic

Choose a topic: This is the first step in the research you will do for your paper or project.

Understand the assignment: Look closely at the instructions you have been given and consider the following questions.

  • Is it an assigned topic or can it be one of your own choosing?
  • What is the purpose of the research assignment? (Support an argument? Provide background on an issue? Summarize existing findings?)
  • Are you required to use certain types of materials such as scholarly articles?
  • Are you limited to a certain time period or geographic region?

Select a topic that interests you: If you have some flexibility in choosing your topic, choose one that you find interesting and that you want to know more about. Being interested in the topic will help keep you going. If you need ideas, try:

Consider your focus An example would be:
Broad topic: Pets
Narrow topic: Pet therapy
Narrower topic: Pet therapy and the chronically ill 

If you're having trouble coming up with a focus for your topic, consider creating a Concept Map. 

Here is a video that was created by UCLA Library on concept mapping:

Write a research question

A research question is a clear, focused question that helps guide your search.

The four "must haves" of a good research question:

  1. Relevance (the question must be related to your topic)
  2. Feasible/realistic (Can you answer this question in the time that you have?)
  3. Clearly written (Do other people know what you're asking?)
  4. Open-ended (The question cannot be answered with a 'yes' or 'no'.)

Example of a research question that is too general:  Is pet therapy beneficial?

Example of a solid, clearly written, open-ended research question: How can companion animals improve health?