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Capstone Guide

Online research guide for Associate and Bachelor degree Capstone students

Narrowing Your Topic

One of the hardest steps of research is to determine a focused research question. First, you need to narrow your topic to a manageable scope. You can find a list of pre-approved topics in Blackboard. However, these topics are still too broad - you need to narrow it down further. Deciding where to place your focus can be challenging. Two very helpful tools available to all Central Penn students are Gale's Topic Finder, and Credo's Mind Map.



Credo Mind Maps can help you see smaller subtopics of a larger topic. By clicking on a term in the mind map, the map will automatically reform to produce new possible subtopics for you to explore.


Gale's Topic Finder works similarly to Credo's Mind Map. Topics display in a wheel or tile format. By clicking on a term, you will see further subtopics to explore. A pane on the right side of the screen updates with each new topic to provide you with articles about that particular topic.



Identifying a Solvable Problem

Finding a problem that no one has solved is hard - what do I do?

  1. Exploratory research - read books, e-books, Credo topic pages, and Opposing Viewpoints topic pages. Get a general idea about what people are saying about your topic. 
  2. In-depth research - find and read as many journal articles (in particular, research studies) about your topic as you can. You need to know what has already been published and addressed. 


For your Capstone assignment, you must identify a problem, then present a viable solution. The problem should evolve into a research question, then be presented as a "statement of the issue". To locate a problem and in turn, determine your research question, you need to find a "gap in the literature" - a question that no one has answered yet. One of the best places to find these gaps is in the Discussion or Conclusion section of a research article. After researchers have analyzed the results of their study, they often are left with some unanswered questions (or items they could not definitively prove). They discuss these at the end of their published article. 

Key phrases to look for:

  • "Further research should examine . . . "
  • "An area of future research could focus on . . . "
  • "Subsequent research is needed to understand . . . "

You can find these phrases by reading the Discussion or Conclusion section of research studies about your general topic.

Simple ways to narrow down a common research topic (will not work for every imaginable topic) into a focused research question:

  • limit your research to the local geographical area
  • limit your research to a specific time frame
  • limit your research to a specific demographic

If you continue to have trouble narrowing down your topic into a research question, speak with your instructor or a librarian.

Use one of these databases to find published research studies: