Depending on your 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, where, how, what if. What question would you like to answer with your research?

By phrasing your topic as a question, your paper becomes more focused. Your research question makes you reflect further on the topic than what you already know.

Thesis statement

The thesis statement answers your research question. It’s a claim you make based on the research you’ve done. The goal of the paper is to provide evidence to support that claim. 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.

However, avoid narrowing your topic so much that can’t find enough information (too specific).

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


My topic is sustainable energy.

I’m interested in solar energy and have come up with the following research question:  “Why aren’t there more people integrating solar technology to their houses?”

I however need to narrow my topic to one aspect of this question and focus on one potential reason for this. My thesis statement becomes:

“The cost associated with converting a house to solar power prevents most people from choosing to do so.”

Continue to the next step