Narrow or broaden a topic

Narrowing your topic

Example: I’m thinking of doing a paper on “dance.” This topic could develop in many different ways.

Hint: Ask Yourself Questions About Your Topic:

  • What do you know about it? What don’t you know?
  • What aspects of your topic interest you: historical, sociological, psychological, etc.?
  • What time period do you want to cover?
  • On what geographic region do you want to focus?
  • What kind of information do you need?
  • A brief summary or a lengthy explanation?
  • Periodical articles, books, essays, encyclopedia articles?
  • Statistics?

Sample Topic Narrowing Chart:

General Topic: dance
Time span: 1920s
Place: US; Southern US; New York City
Person or group: youth; flappers; African Americans
Event or Aspects: race; jazz age; Fox Trot

Broadening Your Topic

Example: I’m thinking of doing a paper on “whether genetically altered soybeans are safe for consumers.”

This topic as stated is seeking to answer a question for which there may be no answer yet — more scientific and long-term research may need to be done. How can this be turned into a more manageable topic?

Hint 1: Look for parallels and opportunities for broader associations:

  • Could you examine other bioengineered foods, in addition to soybeans?
  • Could you think broadly about safety concerns and issues — what might these be?
  • Who are the key players in this controversy? Consumer activists? Regulatory agencies like the U.S. FDA? Scientists?
  • What other issues are involved in this topic? Such as, how should be foods be labeled?

Hint 2: Brainstorm! (and ask a reference librarian!)

Sample Topic Broadening Chart:

Specific Topic: Are genetically altered soybeans safe for consumers?
Alternate focus: bioengineered or genetically altered foods
Alternate Place: general; US, Europe, Asia
Brainstorm Focus on: Person or Group: consumer advocates vs FDA and scientists
Brainstorm Focus on: Event or Aspect: labeling foods; regulations


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Starting Your Research by University of California Santa Cruz, University Library is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.  Some content has been modified to suit the curricular and research needs of Yale-NUS College.  All changes are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.