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Public Health & Health Administration

Starting place for public health and health administration research

Picking a research question

When you pick a topic, it is not set in stone. You may find that you need to revise your question based on the amount and type of literature you find.

This video shows how to broaden or narrow your topic:

Too broad or too narrow?

Your topic needs to be scalable to your paper. Make sure it isn’t too broad or too narrow. If you notice any of the following while searching for articles and books, you may need to refine your topic. 

Too Broad? Too Narrow?
You can find an entire book on your topic. A simple Google search on your topic yields nothing or very little. 
It's difficult to come up with a thesis statement because there isn't anything to argue or there isn't a range of perspectives on your topic. It's hard to research because there is so little information (e.g., you only found 3 or 4 results in your searching)
It's hard to research because there is so much information (e.g., you found 1000s of hits in your searching) It's difficult to figure out where you would locate information (e.g., data may not exist)


If your topic is too broad:

Apply journalistic question words to your topic to narrow your focus. (e.g., “Global Warming” > “Global Warming on reptiles in Australia” = what, where)

Who | What | Where | When | Why | How

If your topic is too narrow:

Remove one aspect of your topic and/or use the question words to back up a step.

Questions to ask yourself as you build a research question:

Can you argue a position? Or can the topic be answered by a single statement or statistic?

  • Example: What is the prevalence of diabetes in the United States? -> This can be answered in one sentence, and there isn't an argument to be made.

Is there a range of perspectives on this topic?

Are all concepts in the your question clear and defined? Or is the question too vague?

  • Too vague: How does air pollution affect quality of life?

Has this question been studied before? Am I likely to find literature on this topic?