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.
Mary Baldwin University Logo
Martha S. Grafton Library

Psychology: Focusing a Broad Topic

Guide to resources in psychology, including reference works, databases, and websites.

How do I focus a paper topic?

William Badke, in his book Research Strategies, recommends beginning your research by developing a "working knowledge" of a topic. A working knowledge is the ability to talk about a topic for one minute without repeating yourself.

Identify the Four W's of a topic:

  • Who are the populations affected? (e.g. women, Americans?)
  • What are the facts/causes/issues surrounding the topic?
  • When were the people and issues affected? (e.g. a current or historical time period)
  • Where has this topic taken place? (e.g. the US, Ancient Greece)

To find information on the Four W's, try Grafton's Research Guides by Subject. We have links to useful web resources, encyclopedias online and in print, and article databases. If you can't find information on your topic or don't know where to start, Ask a Librarian.


Once you have answered the 4 W's you should be able to talk or write about your topic briefly without repetition. From the facts you have gathered pick the aspects that most interest you. So instead of struggling with the very broad topic of eating disorders, you might choose to research the causes of obesity and overeating in American adolescent females.

Ask a Question:

What about the 5th W, Why? Why? is your responsibility. Why were these people in this place at this time affected by your topic? You answer why wtih a thesis statement and the evidence you have gathered in your research and reflection. The information you have gathered, the easier it is to answer the question why.

Chat with a Librarian

JavaScript disabled or chat unavailable.