It is important to adopt a flexible approach when choosing a topic to investigate. The goal when writing any research paper is to choose a research problem that is focused and time-limited. However, your starting point should not be so narrowly defined that you unnecessarily constrict your opportunity to investigate the topic thoroughly. A research problem that is too narrowly defined leads to any of the following:
In general, an indication that a research problem is too narrowly defined is that you can't find any relevent or meaningful information about it. If this happens, don't immediately abandon your efforts to investigate the problem because it could very well be an excellent topic of study. A good way to begin is to look for parallels and opportunities for broader associations that apply to the initial research problem. A strategy for doing this is to ask yourself the basic six questions of who, what, where, when, how, and why.
Here is an example of how to apply the six questions strategy to broadening your topic. The research problem is to investigate ways to improve trade relations between Peru and Bolivia. Ask yourself:
Reflecting upon these six questions can help you formulate ways to expand the parameters of your initial research problem, providing an opportunity to obtain new ideas that can be investigated. Once you've found additional directions in which to procede with your topic, you can try narrowing it down again, if needed.
NOTE: Your initial review of the research literature can help you answer these questions as well as identify gaps in the literature when answers cannot be found.
Coming Up With Your Topic. Institute for Writing Rhetoric. Dartmouth College; Getting Started With Your Research: A Self-Help Guide to Quality Information, Jean and Alexander Heard Library. Vanderbilt University; Strategies for Broadening a Topic. University Libraries. Information Skills Modules. Virginia Tech University.