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Section 1

Steps to Narrowing Down Your Topic

After identifying the topic you'd like to research, follow the steps below to ensure you are narrowing your topic appropriately.
Step One: Determine Your Domain of Expertise
  • What do you do for a living? 
  • What do people come to you about for professional advice? 
  • What are the areas of specialization that most interests you? 
  • Where are the extra connections that can lead to your research topic? 
  • How are you willing to change your thinking to be a domain expert? 
  • What population do you have access to? 
  • What are you considering as your topic? The first answers are almost always big.

Consider the topic: Elephants

Step Two: What do you hope to accomplish? 
  • Elephants are endangered; I want to protect them
  • Elephants are underrepresented
  • I think it would be interesting
  • There is a lot I know about elephants
  • I know that my solution will have an impact
Step Three: Utilize top-down thinking

 Narrowing down all elephants to African savanna elephants

Step Four: Identify a problem with population and a sample othat population. 

What is the gap or opportunity?

It is... It is not...

an unanswered question.

an opportunity to look at a problem in a different way. 

a chance to analyze the problem with a different population. 

something that will add new understanding.


a duplication of someone else’s study.

a pet project – a “just because I want to”. 

emotionally driven.

Identifying the Gap 
  • Read, read, and read more.
  • Target your search terms.
  • Note what other scholar-practitioners document as needing additional research (if at least three articles include a noted gap, you most likely have a solid problem identified).
  • Look for what is missing in the body of literature: before you assume something is missing see if there is a reason why. 
Step Five: Ask the Hard Questions 
  • Who cares? 
  • How can assessing the situational condition help? 
  • Do I have now, or can I develop the domain expertise to analyze the problem? 
  • Is there enough literature to build a foundation for the doctoral project or dissertation-in-practice? 
  • Do I have access to collect data from a sample of the population? 
  • Can this be completed in the time allotted in my program? 

Example Sample and ProblemAfrican Savanna Elephants in Kruger National Park with Purple toenails

There is a problem with purple-toenails among elephants (Smit, 2015) in the Kruger National Park in South Africa. Despite the vigilant management of animal care by the park employees and managers (Engelbrecht, 2016) this rare condition continues occurring. This problem negatively affects the park, as the cost of continued isolation of these elephants results in more money spent on operations and management of these individual affected animals (Zulu, 2017). Botha (2015) noted the cost for management of single groups of animals was cost-prohibitive and led to poorer overall care and management of all Kruger National Park animals and increased occurrences of poaching resulting in increased costs related to game law enforcement. A possible cause of the purple toenail problem may be diet, habits, or care of this group of animals (Nkosi, 2014). Perhaps a study which investigates diet, habits, and care of these animals by a ___________ methodological approach could remedy the situation. 

Value of the Project Outcomes

The significance of the project highlights the value that the project outcomes may provide in the field or real-world practice.

Whereas the problem statement discussed the negative consequences of not conducting the study or project, this section highlights the positive contribution of completing the study or project.

In the development of the Significance of the Project section, consider the following questions:

  • Why is study or project is important?
  • What are the benefits to conducting the study or project?
  • How it can contribute to the field? 
  • Who will benefit from the study or project?
  • How will the results be beneficial to leaders and practitioners?
  • How do the results contribute to the literature?
  • Why was it important that the problem be addressed?
  • Why was it imperative to accomplish the project purpose? 
  • Why did the questions need to be answered?