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Undergraduate Research and Writing Help

This guide covers narrowing down a topic, developing keywords, and searching the databases.


When developing a topic, you'll probably go through several drafts before you find the best topic for your paper--one that is the appropriate scope and research area. On this page, you'll find tips on how to choose a topic, and how to narrow or broaden it. 

Narrowing a Topic

If you find that your topic is too broad for the confines of your assignment, or your teacher tells you that your topic needs to be more narrow or specific, consider these questions:

1. What? Are there different aspects or sides to the topic? Are there multiple viewpoints? Why is it an important question?

2. Who? Which groups are affected by the topic area in question? Who is involved in the discussion? Is culture an aspect?

3. When? Is this topic a contemporary concern, a question that affects people today? Is it a topic that can be explored across time period? Is it a historical concern?

4. Where? Is the topic confined to a specific geographic location? Does it affect one area more than another, or is it universal?

Sometimes exploring one or two of these questions, rather than all of them, is more appropriate for the scope of your assignment. 

Broadening a Topic

If you find that you can't find enough evidence for your topic, you might want to broaden it. However, make sure that your lack of evidence is not caused by search issues. Sometimes it's difficult to find the appropriate sources for your topic. Check the Keywords and Sources tabs before you broaden your topic. 

If your topic is indeed too narrow, you can try different approaches to broaden it. One technique is to explore another aspect of the topic. For example, if you're looking at incidents of racial discrimination in one town, you might broaden the scope to encompass similar cities or even cover an entire state. You can also can find synonyms for the keywords you are already using, such as "United States of America" instead of just "America," or "The Great War" instead of just "World War I." You might also try adding different types of sources. For example, if you're researching women's roles in the home during the 1920's, you can use newspaper articles and advertisements, in addition to looking at advice literature.