Narrowing Down Research Topic

Students usually start with something very “grand”, or simple, or general, but you need to narrow the topic down to make it feasible. A well-defined research question is a must for a successful thesis.

You may want to start from general to specific. For example:

  • “Why university students choose their programme of study?”(General)

This is a very general topic and apparently, it is not manageable ask all university students.

  • “Why social sciences students choose their programme of study?”(Less general)

It is rather manageable to have “social science students” as participants than “all students”. However, are you going to compare different social science students’ in different universities or particularly those in a university?

  • “Why social sciences students in EdUHK choose their programme of study?” (More refined)

This research question is more specific and easier to manage.

When designing your research questions, you can consider the three keys: 

select, specify, and connect



Don’t not be too ambitious.

What or who are you selecting?


Define your research questions.

Can you answer the research question(s)? How?

Think about the sampling and methods being used.

Connect  Think about your research significance and how your research relates to the existing literature. (Ask yourself “so what?” could be helpful!)

Research questions can also be classified into different categories:

  1. Descriptive (Asking what, who, where and when)
  2. Evaluative (How good is something? What are the criteria of judgement?)
  3. Narrative (What happens and how it happens?)
  4. Causal (Why?)
  5. Effects (A hybrid of 1 and 2 e.g. the effects of a new policy or practice)



Tips for creating research questions

  1. Ask one thing in each question.
  2. Be clear about why each question is significant, such as “Who cares about the answer? Why does it matter?”
  3. Be precise and say who or what will be studied.
  4. A few questions are enough.
  5. You have to be confident to collect the necessary information to support your claims.



 Know More

Starting with writing. (2002). In Knight, P. T. Small-scale research (pp. 2-15). London: SAGE Publications Ltd. doi: 10.4135/9781849209908