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Research: Select and Develop a Topic: Topic Development

Here are tips for a successful research project

Narrowing Your Topic

The scope of your topic should be focused on 2-3 concepts. Keep the topic narrow enough to be interesting, yet broad enough for you to easily find adequate information and the required number of resources. 

If your topic is too broad you may retrieve too many results when you begin searching. From a broader topic, you can use any or all of these questions to help narrow the focus:

  • ‚ÄčWHO? Is a particular population group affected?
  • WHEN? Is your topic particularly relevant to a defined time period? 
  • WHERE? Is a specific geographic area or location impacted?
  • WHAT? Are you exploring a unique aspect of an event or issue?
  • WHY? Are you exploring or arguing reasons for or against something?

Try this Search Strategy Generator from the University of Michigan to help develop a topic!

Develop a Thesis Statement

Define your topic as a focused research question or thesis. This thesis statement helps you stay focused while researching your topic and gathering relevant resources. Your thesis statement also also tells your readers what your paper will be about. 


  • Initial idea - Frank Lloyd Wright or modern architecture
  • Research Question - How has Frank Lloyd Wright influenced modern architecture?
  • Focused Research Question - What design principles used by Frank Lloyd Wright are common in contemporary homes?


Controversial issue -  "Guns are dangerous weapons and should be controlled"; "Our Second Amendment right to bear arms is being eroded by unnecessary gun control laws."

  • Exploring an issue:  "What are the facts behind each side of the gun control controversy?"  You may develop strong views after doing your research. You can always change your thesis statement at any point during the research process.

Check with your professor to see what s/he expects regarding a thesis statement.

Search Strategy

With a focused topic and your thesis statement defined, you can now formulate a strategy for your research!

  • Make an outline of what questions you need to answer about your topic.
  • Under each item in your outline, record the keywords that would be most useful for researching that particular area. Keywords are important, and as you learn more about your topic, if will be easier to select keywords to search for information
  • Watch this keyword video from the University of Houston Libraries on how to develop useful keywords.
  • Determine which library databases would best suit your topic.

Video: Developing Your Research Question

Video: How to Narrow Your Research Topic

Get Help

Conduct your research

Coulter Library, Onondaga Community College, Syracuse, NY