How do I pick a research topic?


Choose a topic that interests you and fulfills the requirements of your assignment. As you start crafting your research question, consider the following steps.

Step 1: Identify a broad topic of interest.

  • Are you interested in immigration, student success, health disparities, pollution, etc.?

Step 2: Start to think about other variables or sub-topics that can narrow and focus your research.

  • Use the 4Ws of What? Where? Who? and When? to think about possible variables or sub-topics.
  • Example: Here are a few possible variables for a broad topic related to water pollution.
    • What? plastics, microplastics, microfiber contamination, plastic bottle waste
    • Where? oceans, Pacific ocean, surface waters, China
    • Who? whales, aquatic life, shrimp, humans, children
    • When? Last 10 years, historically, 20th century

Step 3: Start to string some of your variables or sub-topics into a research question.

  • You may not include every W in your question, and your question may have more than one W (what, where, who, when).
  • Examples:
    • In the past 10 years (WHEN), what impact have microplastics (WHAT) had on aquatic life (WHO) in the Pacific Ocean (WHERE)?
    • To what extent is plastic bottle waste (WHAT) entering the aquatic ecosystem (WHAT) and impacting the health (WHAT) of children (WHO) in China (WHERE)?

Step 4: Make adjustments with your research criteria in mind.

  • As you start searching, you may find that you need to revise your research question by adjusting the variables to broaden or narrow your research question's scope..

For more detailed information about how to pick a topic check out the Start Your Research tutorial. 

If you need additional help, you can always email us or make an appointment with a librarian.