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Refine Your Topic

Depending on the assignment you may be asked to formulate your topic as a research question or as a thesis statement.

Research question

At the college level, research papers require more than a simple gathering of information and opinions. You need to ask questions: why, how, what if, where. What would you like to answer with your research?  By phrasing your topic as a question your paper becomes more focused. Your research question should have you reflect further on the topic and not be something you already know.

Thesis statement

The thesis statement answers your research question. It is the main purpose of your paper or in other words, a claim you make based on the research you’ve done. The goal of the paper is to provide evidence to support your thesis.  What do you want your audience to learn?

Video: Choosing a Topic and Thesis

Posted with permission of the Reeves Memorial Library, Seton Hill University


Remember to go from general to specific while you’re refining your topic. If your topic is too broad (general) you will end up with too much information to go through. But don’t narrow it so much that you can’t find enough information (topic is too specific).


My topic is the rising level of obesity. I’m interested in obesity in children and have come up with the research question of:  Why is there an increasing level of obesity in children? I may need to narrow my topic to one aspect of this question and focus on one potential cause of obesity. My thesis statement becomes:

The proliferation of fast food restaurants has led to an increase in childhood obesity.

Tip:  You may need to modify your topic as you proceed with your research. Remember to continue to question and remain flexible.