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Image: Christopher Drexel. Toni Morrison. Flickr. March 9, 2018.
Choosing a topic often feels like an impossible first step. It can be helpful to keep your initial topic ideas broad, and then begin honing in on your research question as you encounter new research materials. It is often through the process of research itself that one discovers a research topic.
There is no correct way to do research, but the following guidelines might be useful to keep in mind as you begin:
After gathering your background information, refine your initial topic and question based off of what you learned. A good rule of thumb: if there is an entire book on your topic, it is too broad for a research paper. On the other hand, if the topic can be discussed in a few paragraphs, then it is too narrow.
Example: "The role of women in the plays of Shakespeare" is too broad because hundreds of books and articles have been written on this topic; "The symbolism of Ariel's costume in the Tempest" is likely too narrow because there are not enough books and articles discussing this specific detail.
Remember, don't worry if refining your topic happens more than once!