Skip to Main Content

ESL 51/52 (WO)

Why Do I Need to Narrow My Focus?

Now that you know more about your topic, you can narrow it to a specific research question.  This video explains how to narrow your focus before you search and why that is so important.

How Do I Focus My Research Question?

To narrow your topic, try phrasing it as a question.





Check mark

Would raising the minimum wage reduce the gender pay gap?

And answer the Five Ws:

  • Who?
  • What?
  • When?
  • Where?
  • Why? / How?

Try with an Example!

Let's start with a very broad topic:  Technology

First, turn it into a question:  How does technology affect society?

This is a good start, but the question is very broad.  Try using the 5 Ws!

  • Who?  Children, teens, toddlers, adults, low income families ...
  • What?  Smartphones, Internet, social media, robots, online education ...
  • When?  Today, five years in the future, in 1945 ...
  • Where?  US, worldwide, Pakistan, rural areas, Virginia, Prince William County
  • Why / How?  Causes and effects

By answering these questions, you can decide whether you want to write about:

  1.  Does using smartphones and tablets hurt toddlers' brain development?
  2.  How can the government prevent job loss due to automation?
  3.  How does limited internet access impact high school students in rural areas?

You won't always address all of the five Ws, but using a few will help narrow your focus.

Check Your Research Question

Once you answer the 5 Ws, we can finally put together a great research question, but make sure that it passes this final test.

A good research question is...

  • Specific

Only answer one main research question in your paper. It seems counterintuitive, but a narrow topic is actually easier to research than a broad one.  Instead of mentioning many ideas briefly, focus on just a few points and develop them well.

  • Interesting

Consider the assignment an opportunity to learn more about something that interests you.  Research is easier and more enjoyable when you pick a topic that interests you.

  • Unique

Good research tackles new, unusual topics. Instead of "marijuana legalization", try "How should states use tax revenue generated by legalized marijuana?"