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Writing the Literature Review: Step 1: Choose A Topic

So, you have to write a Literature Review? What is a Literature Review? How is it different from an annotated bibliography? Find out all that and more--Here.

Choosing a Topic

Topic Selection is a key step.  Loosely speaking, a topic is: "a general subject area" such as "global warming" or "teenage pregnancy."  Choosing a research topic is a process.  You want to think about your topic and do sample searches to get started.  Sample searching will help you to discover what other researchers are saying about your topic.  

A topic should:

1. Interest you.  You are going to spend a lot of time investigating and learning more about it.

2. Be complex and multidimensional.  

3.. Generate one ore more relevant research questions.

4. Have previously generated some research by other scholars.

5. Be broad enough to allow you to find research materials, but narrow enough for you to tackle taking into account your project length and time frame (scope).  

Adapted from:  

Stebbins, L. (2006). Student guide to research in the digital age : How to locate and evaluate information sources. Westport, Conn.: Libraries Unlimited.

Getting Started


  • Brainstorm
  • Choose a "strong topic" that interests you
  • Do some preliminary research
  • Refine your topic
  • Write it out as a statement


  • Write your ideas out on paper
  • You can also try something like a mind map

Write down anything about your topic that you find interesting, or would like to know more about

What is a "strong topic"? 

  • The topic is interesting
  • There is available existing research on the topic
  • It is not too narrow

If a topic is strong, you will be able find  supporting material on it that will be useful to your research

Refine your topic

  • ​You want to refine your topic so that it is not too broad
  • In order to refine your topic, you may ask yourself some questions about your topic. Those questions may be similar to the 5 W's that you may remember from grade school: Who, What, When, Where and Why

Wang, Gabe T., and Keumjae Park. Student Research and Report Writing : From Topic Selection to the Complete Paper, John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated, 2015. ProQuest Ebook Central,


You will want to determine the "scope" of your project.  But, what is "scope?"

Scope in this case is:  the area covered by an activity, topic, etc; the range: e.g. the scope of his thesis was vast.

Some questions that will help you to determine "scope"

  1. How long is the literature review?
  2. How many sources are required?
  3. Do you have a publication date requirement for your sources?
  4. What type of sources will you be consulting for the review (trade journals, peer reviewed journals, books or websites, etc.)
  5. What will be the focus of your literature review?  

Scope. (2014). In Collins Dictionaries (Ed.), Collins English Dictionary (12th ed.). London, UK: Collins. Retrieved from

Refresh your memory: Selecting a Topic

Developing a good research question can sometimes be the most difficult part of the research process. If you are struggling, follow the links below.