Narrowing down your broad topic to a more manageable research question can be challenging. Thinking about your topic in terms of the 3 P's can help:
After you have done some preliminary research and have identified a narrow topic, you can begin to develop your thesis statement into something that is searchable.
You can use the worksheet below to help you define and refine your topic:
Before you start searching, it can be helpful to identify the key aspects of your question. Consider as well if there are any possible synonyms/related terms for each aspect of your question. Your starting question can be broad, but ultimately your goal should be to narrow it down to something you can answer within the scope of your class project.
Step 1: Start with a broad question
Step 2: Brainstorm ways to make your question more specific
Step 3: Re-write your question to be more specific (this may lead to other more specific questions)
Step 4: Develop an initial list of search terms to find related literature
Start thinking about alternative terms you might want to search in the library databases. This will help you find the most relevant literature.
Can be answered with 'yes' or 'no' answer
Answered easily with factual information
Doesn't prompt you to ask
Should require additional research to answer
Takes into consideration intended audience,
Addresses wider issues
Prompts you to ask more questions
(Taken from "Reading, Writing, and Researching for History" by Patrick Rael, 2012)
Factors that help us refine our research question
Evaluate your research question using the following (adapted from George Mason University's Writing Centre Guide - How to Write a Research Question):
Is your research question clear? With so much research available on any given topic, research questions must be as clear as possible in order to be effective in helping the writer direct his or her research.
Is your research question focused? Research questions must be specific enough to be well covered in the space available.
Is your research question complex? Research questions should not be answerable with a simple “yes” or “no” or by easily-found facts. They should, instead, require both research and analysis on the part of the writer. They often begin with “How” or “Why.”
Is your question unbiased? Questions should be open to exploration without an embedded answer.
This guide from the University Library at Leeds provides an excellent overview of the steps you will want to follow to develop a comprehensive literature search.
What is citation chaining?
Citation chaining means searching backwards and forwards in time for materials that are cited by and also that cite an article or resource you already have. One resource links you to another, which links you to another, and so on to create a chain of relevant literature.
~ Walden University
Advantages of citation chaining
Strategy 1: Carefully review the references of relevant articles you've found
Trajanovska, S., Ban, J., Huang, J., Gregorevic, P., Morsch, M., Allen, D. G., & Phillips, W. D. (2019). Muscle specific kinase protects dystrophic mdx mouse muscles from eccentric contraction‐induced loss of force‐producing capacity. The Journal of Physiology, 597(18), 4831-4850.
Strategy 2: Use Google Scholar or Scopus to find out who cited the articles you've found
Google Scholar result
You can ask yourself the following three questions to help you determine when to end your literature search:
You can limit your Google results by domain by using the "site:" function
site:gc.ca - Government of Canada
site:ca - Web pages from Canada
site:edu - US educational institutions
site:gov - US Government web pages
site:org - Not-for-profit web pages
Databases and Repositories
Conferences and other academic sources