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Research Process Guide

Step 2: Narrowing Your Topic

As you are working through the process of choosing a research topic, you want to make sure that you are choosing a topic that is not too broad or too narrow. It is important that you explore the scale and scope of your research before you begin. Making a plan with your mentor, advisor, or co-researchers about what you intend to explore, where you get your data and how long it will take.  

There are some steps you can take to try to narrow down your research topic. Ultimately, you are looking for a clear statement of the problem to be studied. That said, you need to start ‘unpacking’ the problem by asking what issues make up the problem, as well as a thorough review of the literature.

According to Bouma et al. (2012) there are some questions that you can ask yourself to help you unpack the problem:

  1. What are the major concepts within the problem?
  2. What is happening in and around the problem?
  3. What are the issues in and around the problem?
  4. Is one thing affecting or causing a change in something else? Why is this so?

You need to think about the scale and scope of your research problem, as you narrow your focus. You would narrow the scale by asking: how much data can I collect to answer my research questions? How and where will I collect my data? What is my sample size? Is this study reasonable and doable? You would narrow the scope by asking: What are the appropriate boundaries of the study? What data will I not be collecting? What data will I include?

Research Gaps

It is really important to consider the gaps in the research on your topic, as these gaps will define what you are contributing to the discourse in your field and on your topic. To underscore, rather than seeing your research as merely part of the criteria to earn your degree, you may want to consider the opportunity to create an entirely new knowledge base, theory or to inform practice and policy (Winterberger & Saunders, 2020).  Ultimately, your research will be published in the ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global database once you defend your dissertation. Many graduate students go on for postgraduate research positions and can use their dissertation research as a foundation of future scholarly publications. It is important to note that most scholarly journals feature research that finds new ways to investigate conceptual and theoretical topics previously researched, a method referred to widely as ‘gap spotting’ (Winterberger & Saunders, 2020).


Bouma, G. D., Ling, R., & Wilkinson, L. (2012). The research process (2nd Canadian ed.). Oxford University Press.

Wintersberger, D., & Saunders, M. (2020). Formulating and clarifying the research topic: Insights and a guide for the production management research community. Production, 30.