Narrowing a Topic

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What happens when you discover that your topic is too big?

A topic that seems like it is perfect for research can become too big after you’ve learned a little more about it.  If this happens, you need to narrow your topic to make it more manageable.  You can do this by considering different ways to restrict your paper topic.

Some of the ways you can narrow your paper topic are by:

  • Who – population or group (e.g., elementary students; boys/girls; Asian Americans)
  • What – discipline or focus (e.g., education)
  • Where – geographic location (e.g., United States; elementary schools; small towns)
  • When – time period or era (19th century; Renaissance; Vietnam War)
  • Why – why is the topic important? (to the class, to the field, or to you)

For example, a paper about exercise would be very broad and too big to research because there are so many different types of exercises, reasons for exercise, and people who exercise.   However, a paper about reasons kids need to participate in daily exercise during school might be just right.

 

What happens when you discover that your topic is too small?

Sometimes you will find that your topic is too narrow – there is not enough published on your topic.  When this happens, you can try to broaden your topic.  There are a couple of strategies you can try:

One strategy is to choose less specific terms for your search, e.g., standardized tests instead of SATs or performance-enhancing drugs instead of anabolic steroids.

Another strategy is to broaden your topic by changing or removing limits from your topic:

  • Who – population or group (e.g., instead of Memphians, choose a broader section of the country)
  • What  – discipline or focus (e.g., instead of choosing a educational perspective, look at a number of perspectives)
  • Where  – geographic location (e.g., instead of Memphis, choose United States)
  • When  – time period or era (e.g., instead of 2003, choose 2000s or 21st century)

For example, a paper about sports injuries in elementary boys in 2003 might be too narrow of a focus.  But a paper about sports injuries in elementary students in the 21st century might be just right.

Use the following Search engine to find information on your topic: Type in your topic and click “go” to find articles and websites for research to see if there is enough information on your topic.