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CRLS Research Guide Cambridge Rindge And Latin Research Guide

Focusing a Research Topic

Tip Sheet 8

Ask these questions:

What is it?

Focusing a research topic is narrowing (or sometimes broadening) a topic so that you can demonstrate a good understanding of it, including enough examples and important details, within the size limits of the project you are required to produce. You need to satisfy both yourself and your teacher that you know what you are talking about. If your teacher gives you no limits, make them for yourself. You don't want to spend your life on this, at least not right now.


Why should I do it?

This is the #1 biggest pitfall in the research process. If you pick a topic that is too big, you will not only have trouble selecting what to include from a huge selection of material available, you will probably leave out some critical information that will make it apparent (especially to your teacher) that you don't really know what you are talking about.


If, on the other hand, you pick a topic that is too narrow, you won't find enough to write about and end up repeating yourself to fill 6 pages (which doesn't go over very well with teachers either, by the way).


The process of focusing a topic takes practice, so be patient with yourself. It is challenging when you don't know too much about a topic. It will get easier as your knowledge base increases. Remember that the research process is a recursive one which means that you may need to revisit your topic choice more than once if you find it doesn't work out. Luckily there are some strategies and methods to help you through this critically important part of the process. Read on!


How do I do it?

There are different ways to focus your topic. In the Related Links at the bottom of the page you can click on some different methods. Whichever method you choose (and you may do a combination of them) try to pick something that interests you in some way. Even if the overall subject doesn't seem interesting, you can pick an interesting angle on it.



For example:


Say you have to do a research project about World War II, and you don't know a thing about it, nor are you at all interested in it. Try to find a subtopic that connects to your interests.


If you like cars, try comparing the land vehicles used by the Germans and the Americans.

If you like fashion, look at women's fashions during the war and how they were influenced by military uniforms and the shortage of certain materials.

If you like animals, look at the use of dogs by the US Armed Forces.

If you like puzzles and brain teasers, look at the fascinating topic of decoding secret messages.

If you like music, find out what types of music American teenagers were listening to during the war years.

If you are a pacifist, find out what the anti-war movement was like during the war in any country.

Find out what was happening during the war on your birth date.

Find out if any of your relatives fought in the war and research that time and place.

Look below for links to more different methods of focusing your topic.


Copyright © 2004 Holly Samuels All Rights Reserved