Once you have a research topic, you will need to consider how much of it you can cover in your paper. Papers that are 3-5 pages in length can cover less of a topic than 10 or 20-page papers. If you are writing a shorter paper, limit your topic to a single aspect or issue within a larger topic. As you continue to research and write your paper, you may need to revise the focus and scope, depending on how many sources are available.
Focus & Scope
- Time (When) – choose a specific historical period or a time before or after a key event
(example: airline security training after 9/11)
- Geography (Where) – choose a specific locale or region
(example: insect control in Vermont orchards)
- Population (Who) – choose a specific age group, gender, educational level,
or other demographic (example: Internet use by seniors)
- Discipline (What) – choose a specific psychological, social, cultural, literary,
or symbolic aspect of the subject (example: Celtic symbolism in contemporary popular culture)
- Identify a single variable to focus on (Why)
(example: Children’s influence on their younger siblings)
- Identify two or more variables to study in combination or compare two aspects of one topic (Why)
(example: Republican and Democrat attitudes towards financial aid for college students)
Be specific about the questions that your research will address. Remember that academic research is not merely reporting on a topic or investigating a story like a journalist; you will need to develop a question about your topic that can be answered through the analysis of academic sources. Ask yourself the “W” questions: Who? What? Where? When? and Why? (and oftentimes, How?) These questions can help you locate your specific points of interest within your general topic area.