Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

HES 244: Exercise Psychology: Narrowing Your Topic

Questions to Ask Yourself

Your professor has given you a broad topic for your research project.  You now have the freedom to choose a narrower focus within that topic. 

Q:  C'mon, Michelle...why can't I just write about the broader topic?

A:  You'll soon find out that there is an overwhelming amount of information on the broader topic.  Entire books may have been written about this topic.  In order to find peer-reviewed sources (one of the requirements for your case study assignment), you'll need to choose a subset of the broader topic. 

Here are some questions to help guide you as you begin to identify specific areas of research within your broader topic:

  • What types of (insert your broad topic here) can I write about?
  • Who can I write about?  Are there certain populations or groups that I'm interested in?
  • Am I interested in particular sports or types of exercise?
  • Are there certain places or locations associated with (insert your broad topic here)?

Here's an example:

Let's say that I'm interested in strength training.  In order to come up with a narrower topic, I think about the questions listed above.  Perhaps I'm interested in free weights as a type of strength training.  In terms of population, I think I'd like to research females and strength training.  To take it a step further, maybe I want to focus on elderly females.  A relevant location might be senior centers or assisted living facilities.  

I've now taken steps to really bring my topic into focus - I can look for research on strength training programs for women, involving free weights, offered by senior centers or assisted living facilities.  

Focusing Your Topic

You will have to spend some time mapping out the territory of a topic, sorting out what information is available and what different angles have been taken by others. This is often the most difficult part of the research process - and the most frustrating because you don't feel as if you're making much headway. Try these strategies to make the most of this part of the process:

  • Make a list of possible topics for your research. Use class discussions, texts, personal interests, conversations with friends, and discussions with your teacher for ideas. Start writing them down - you'd be surprised how much faster they come once you start writing.
  • Map out the topic by finding out what others have had to say about it. This is not the time for in-depth reading, but rather for a quick scan. Many students start with a Google search, but you can also browse the shelves where books on the topic are kept and see what controversies or issues have been receiving attention. Search a database or index of articles on your topic area and sort out the various approaches writers have taken. Look for overviews and surveys of the topic that put the various schools of thought or approaches in context. You may start out knowing virtually nothing about your topic, but after scanning the literature you should have several ideas worth following up.
  • Invent questions. Do two things you come across seem to offer interesting contrasts? Does one thing seem intriguingly connected to something else? Is there something about the topic that surprises you? Do you encounter anything that makes you wonder why? Do you run into something that makes you think, "no way! That can't be right." Chances are you've just uncovered a good research focus.
  • Draft a proposal for research. Sometimes a teacher will ask you for a formal written proposal. Even if it isn’t required, it can be a useful exercise. Write down what you want to do, how you plan to do it, and why it's important. You may well change your topic entirely by the time its finished, but writing down where you plan to take your research at this stage can help you clarify your thoughts and plan your next steps.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License