When you have an overall subject to pursue, your next task is to narrow and focus the topic. You want to narrow your topic so that you can explore it in detail. Also, narrowing your topic will enable you to better determine the specific direction of your paper and the research you will conduct on your topic.

1. Generate a list of subtopics related to your overall topic.

Use an encyclopedia, even Wikipedia to find subtopics.

For example:

Subtopics related to crime:

  • Juvenile crime
  • Criminal justice system
  • Racial profiling
  • Prison reform
  • etc.

2. Generate a list of questions that you’d like to explore related to your subtopics.

For example:

Questions related to crime:

  • Why are children being tried as adults?
  • How should drug offenses be addressed within the criminal justice system?
  • Is racial profiling affecting arrest demographics?
  • How can we best reform our over-populated prisons?

Remain flexible: As you continue researching, developing, and thinking about your focused topic and paper, you may find that you have new information, new answers, or conclusions about your topic. In this case, simply go back and modify your thesis. Most writers do not finalize their thesis statement until the last draft of their paper, so think about the focus as merely a starting guideline that is flexible and subject to change.

Look at the following to help narrow as well:

Aspect -- choose one lens through which to view the research problem, or look at just one facet of it.

Components -- determine if your initial variable or unit of analysis can be broken into smaller parts, which can then be analyzed more precisely.

Methodology -- how you gather information can reduce the domain of interpretive analysis needed to address the research problem.

Place -- generally, the smaller the geographic unit of analysis, the more narrow the focus.

Relationship -- ask yourself how do two or more different perspectives or variables relate to one another. Designing a study around the relationships between specific variables can help constrict the scope of analysis.

Time -- the shorter the time period of the study, the more narrow the focus.

Type -- focus your topic in terms of a specific type or class of people, places, or phenomena.

Cause -- focus your topic to just one cause for your topic.

See also: I need help creating a thesis statement

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