Skip to Main Content

English Research Guide

Explore & Refine

A hiker cresting a mountain with the word "Explore"

Before you develop your research topic or question, you'll need to do some background research first.

Some good places to find background information:

  • Your textbook or class readings
  • Encyclopedias and reference books
  • Credible websites
  • Library databases

Try the library databases below to explore your topic. When you're ready, move on to refining your topic.

Find Background Information:

a glass beaker with gold liquid inside with the word "Refine" at the top

Now that you've done some background research, it's time to narrow your topic. Remember: the shorter your final paper, the narrower your topic needs to be. Here are some suggestions for narrowing and defining your topic:

  • Is there a specific subset of the topic you can focus on?
  • Is there a cause and effect relationship you can explore?
  • Is there an unanswered question on the subject?
  • Can you focus on a specific time period or group of people?


Describe and develop your topic in some detail. Try filling in the blanks in the following sentence, as much as you can:

I want to research ____(what/who)____ and ____(what/who)____

in ____(where)____ during ____(when)____ because ____(why)____.


Example: I want to research feminism and gender roles in Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale  because I see parallels between the book and today's society.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.