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Answered By: Sara Stambaugh, Digital Services Librarian
Last Updated: May 10, 2016     Views: 891

When your research topic is too broad, ask yourself these questions:

  • Who?
  • What?
  • When?
  • Where?
  • Why?


Our broad topic example: Criminal Activity

   Who: Populations such as... age, gender, race or ethnicity

      New topic idea: Criminal activity in white males

      New topic idea: Criminal activity in older females 


   What: Types of criminal activity

      New topic idea: Murder tendencies in white males

      New topic idea: Theft tendencies in older females


   When: Time frames such as... current or historical, period of life

      New topic idea: Rum runners in the 18th century

      New topic idea: Crimes committed by middle-aged females


   Where: Places, such as... states, regions, countries

      New topic idea: White collar crimes in Great Britain

      New topic idea: Pick-pockets in New York City


   Why: Evaluate... causes, treatments, outcomes

      New topic idea: Successful methods for preventing home invasion

      New topic idea: Rehabilitation of criminals who have committed murder


Combine any number of elements from these questions until you find an interesting topic to research. For very narrow topics, combine elements from at least three of these questions. If you find your topic is too narrow, eliminate an element.