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CIS 447/544: Intro to Computer & Network Security

Narrowing a topic

Narrowing a topic

You may not know right away what your research question is. Gather information on the broader topic to explore new possibilities and to help narrow your topic.

  • Choose an interesting topic. If you're interested in your topic, chances are the others will be too. Plus if you're researching something you are excited about, it will be more fun.
  • Gather background information
    • For a general overview references sources may be useful (dictionaries, encyclopedias, almanacs, etc)
    • The library's main search box is also a good place to start narrowing your focus and finding resources
    • Ask yourself:
      • What subtopics relate to the broader topic?
      • What questions do these sources bring up?
      • What do you find interesting about the topic?
    • Consider your audience. Who would be interested in the issue?

Reference sources

Reference sources are a great place to begin your research. They provide:

  • A way to identify potential research topics
  • A starting point to gather information on your topic
  • An introduction to major works and key issues related to your topic.
  • Key authors in your area of research

From topic to research question

After choosing a topic and gathering background information, add focus with a research question.

Explore questions

  • Ask open-ended "how" and "why" questions about your general topic.
  • Consider the "so what" of your topic. Why does this topic matter to you? Why should it matter to others? 
  • Reflect on the questions you have considered. Identify one or two questions you find engaging and which could be explored further through research.

Determine and evaluate your research question

  • What aspect of the more general topic will you explore?
  • Is your research question clear?
  • Is your research question focused? (Research questions must be specific enough to be well covered in the space available.)
  • Is your research question complex? (Questions shouldn't have a simple yes/no answer and should require research and analysis)

Hypothesize. After you've come up with a question, consider the path your answer might take.

  • If you are making an argument, what will you say?
  • Why does your argument matter?
  • How might others challenge your argument?
  • What kind of sources will you need to support your argument?
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