Skip to main content

English 100

Everything an English 100 student will need to know

How to Narrow Your Topic for Your Paper

Everything you need to know to Help You Focus Your Topic 


This page should help you find out everything that you need to know to help narrow search for articles.  It will help you narrow your topic for a focused search which will get you the results you need.  

If you have questions or need help, contact Common's Reference Desk in Helm (270 745-6125) or your subject specialist librarian. 

Choosing a Database

which database?

How to determine which database to use for your subject area.

WKU Libraries Home Page has a link to Research Guides which are library information pages (like this one) for every major and minor WKU offers.  If you are not sure what database to use, visiting the Research Guide for your Subject will help you determine where to look.  Each guide has a tab labeled Articles and Databases.  Click on the Articles and Databases Tab to find a listing of which are the best databases to use for searching for material in your specific subject area. For Example, the Business Research Guide would recommend a business major search in a database like ABI Inform, or Business Source Premiere.  Psychology majors would find databases like: PsycInfo, or Pscyhology and Behavioral Sciences Collection to be recommended as their best choice for research in their major field.

How to Narrow Your Subject for a More Focused Search Result

Usually researchers start out looking for a topic which gives them a huge number of results (in Google or the Databases).  To get more precise results from your search you will need to narrow your topic.

narrow topic

How Can You Narrow the Topic?

Once you have selected a broad topic, such as Global Warming or Drug Abuse, you should try to narrow your focus.  Here are some ways to narrow the topic:

  • Pick one aspect of the topic: Causes, Prevention,  Effects, Treatment.
  • Pick a location or subgroup:  New York, College Students, Teenagers, Athletes
  • Select a person closely related to the topic

Now you can put your narrower topic into a research question. Here are some examples:

What are the causes of global warming?

How can we prevent child abuse?

What are the effects of steroid use on athletes?

Why do college students use illegal drugs?

Now you need to identify the keywords for your research.

My topic isn't focused

Focus Your Topic

Use some open ended questions to help refine your topic:

  • What causes (or influences)....
  • What factors contribute to.....
  • How effective is.....
  • What is going on with....
  • Why we should agree with....


Use the Five W's to Focus Your Idea

What - This is your topic. What interests you the most?  Think about how you could use it for a writing assignment.

Who - Narrow by audience. Be more specific with age, race, gender, nationality, etc.  

Where - Narrow by location. Focusing on the topic within a defined region can help avoid information overload.  This could be a neighborhood, a city, a state, a region, a country, etc.

When - Narrow by time. Try limiting a larger topic into a smaller time frame.

Example:  Instead of just "feminism" try:

feminism during the 1960's

feminism during WWII

Why - Narrow by circumstance or method. Does your topic have circumstantial shades of grey that make it hard to define?

  • medicinal marijuana use elderly cancer patients

WKU Writing Center Information

If you should have difficulties and need help with your  writing, please contact the folks at the Writing Center to make an appointment for someone to work with you one-on-one. 

WKU Writing Center

               Cherry Hall 123

Monday - Friday: 9 am - 4 pm

                Cravens Library

Sunday & Monday: 5 pm - 9 pm

Tuesday - Thursday: 4 pm - 9 pm

                                             CLOSED ON MAJOR HOLIDAYS                                                                           

Phone: (270) 745-5719

Developing a Research Question

choosing a topic 2‚Äč


  • Choose a topic that interests you. It will be much easier to research, analyze, and write about!
  • Use your class discussions, current world events, or class texts for inspiration.
  • Do some preliminary research, such as reading a newspaper or scanning an encyclopedia article.

Ask the Who, What, When, Where and Why questions:

  • WHY did you choose the topic?  What interests you about it?  Do you have an opinion about the issues involved?
  • WHO is it about?  Who might write about it?  Who is affected by the topic?  Do you know of organizations or institutions affiliated with the topic?
  • WHAT are the major questions for this topic?  Is there a debate about the topic?  Are there a range of issues and viewpoints to consider?
  • WHERE is important to your topic: is it local, national or international?  Are there specific places affected by the topic?
  • WHEN is/was your topic important?  Is it a current event or an historical issue?  Can you compare your topic by time periods?



Selecting a Topic

The ability to develop a good research topic is an important skill. An instructor may assign you a specific topic, but most often instructors require you to select your own topic of interest. When deciding on a topic, there are a few things that you will need to do:

  • brainstorm for ideas
  • choose a topic that will enable you to read and understand the literature
  • ensure that the topic is manageable and that material is available
  • make a list of key words
  • be flexible
  • define your topic as a focused research question
  • research and read more about your topic
  • formulate a thesis statement

Check Out this great site from University of Michigan-Flint which covers this topic:

How to Select a Research Topic (from the University of Michigan-Flint

Subject Guide

Jack Montgomery's picture
Jack Montgomery
Address: 304 Cravens Library, 1906 College Heights Blvd. #11067, Bowling Green, KY 42101

(270) 745-6156

Chat and FAQs



Subject Guide

Jack Montgomery's picture
Jack Montgomery
Address: 304 Cravens Library, 1906 College Heights Blvd. #11067, Bowling Green, KY 42101

(270) 745-6156