After you have conducted your initial research about the topic and identified the audience for whom you are writing, you can begin to narrow your topic.
There are a number of techniques that writers use to help them focus and refine their topics. A few of them are described below.
Freewriting consists of off-the-top-of-your-head writing for either a predetermined period of time (perhaps ten to fifteen minutes) or until a predetermined amount of text (one to two pages) has been written. The purpose of freewriting is to generate ideas by letting your thoughts flow freely. Therefore, when you use the technique of freewriting you do not necessarily have to be concerned about the organization of ideas, grammar, or spelling. The ideas you generate can subsequently be shaped to help you refine your topic.
Clustering, like freewriting, involves off-the-top-of-your-head idea generation. In clustering, however, the purpose is to develop a visual representation of your ideas (similar to a concept map - see the Concept Maps tutorial). Concepts can then be connected by drawing arrows between them.
Keeping a Journal
Many writers find it useful to keep a journal of ideas that come to them as they begin a research paper. This journal will help you remember ideas that naturally come to you during different times of the day or night.
Asking Journalistic Questions
Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How? Journalists use these questions to help them ensure they are getting the full story, but writers can also use them to help them explore different angles or aspects of a topic.
Similar to freewriting, a brainstorming session can help you develop ideas that are connected to your topic (see the Brainstorming tutorial). As with freewriting you can choose to brainstorm for a set period of time or a set number of ideas, or you can develop a brainstorming list over a longer period of time.