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How do I Library?: Refine your Topic

Narrow Your Topic's Scope

Too much information?  Make your results list more manageable.  Less, but more relevant, information is key.  Here are some options to consider when narrowing the scope of your paper:

  • Theoretical approach:  Limit your topic to a particular approach to the issue.  For example, if your topic concerns cloning, examine the theories surrounding of the high rate of failures in animal cloning.
  • Aspect or sub-area:  Consider only one piece of the subject.  For example, if your topic is human cloning, investigate government regulation of cloning.
  • Time:  Limit the time span you examine.  For example, on a topic in genetics, contrast public attitudes in the 1950's versus the 1990's.
  • Population group:  Limit by age, sex, race, occupation, species or ethnic group.  For example, on a topic in genetics, examine specific traits as they affect women over 40 years of age.
  • Geographical location:  A geographic analysis can provide a useful means to examine an issue.   For example, if your topic concerns cloning, investigate cloning practices in Europe or the Middle East.

Broaden Your Topic If It is Too Specific or New

Not finding enough information?  Think of related ideas, or read some background information first.  You may not be finding enough information for several reasons, including:

  • Your topic is too specific.  Generalize what you are looking for. For example: if your topic is genetic diversity for a specific ethnic group in Ghana, Africa, broaden your topic by generalizing to all ethnic groups in Ghana or in West Africa.
  • Your topic is too new for anything substantive to have been written.  If you're researching a recently breaking news event, you are likely to only find information about it in the news media. Be sure to search databases that contain articles from newspapers. If you are not finding enough in the news media, consider changing your topic to one that has been covered more extensively.
  • You have not checked enough databases for informationFind other databases in your subject area which might cover the topic from a different perspective. Also, use excellent searching techniques to ensure you are getting the most out of every database.
  • You are using less common words or too much jargon to describe your topic.  Use a thesaurus to find other terms to represent your topic. When reading background information, note how your topic is expressed in these materials. When you find citations in an article database, see how the topic is expressed by experts in the field.

Once you have a solid topic, formulate your research question or hypothesis and begin finding information.

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Credit

This work is an adaptation of MIT Libraries' "Selecting a Research Topic guide: http://libguides.mit.edu/select-topic and used with permission and in compliance with Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 4.0 License restrictions.