Exploring a Topic/Presearch
Often you will need to gather some background information on your topic before you decide on a narrower focus. Ask yourself:
K: What do I already know? Why is my topic important?
W: What do I want/need to know/find out?
What information would help me answer my questions?
Initially, you may want to read some general resources to gain a better understanding of your topic. Then, you can narrow your search by asking yourself:
What keywords can I use to search?
What synonyms, broader or narrower terms, or related ideas could I use?
Will proper names (people or places) focus my search?
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Strategies for Narrowing a Topic
The most common challenge when beginning to write a research paper is narrowing down your topic. Even if your teacher gives you a specific topic to study, it will almost never be so specific that you won’t have to narrow it down at least to some degree [besides, grading fifty papers that are all about the exact same thing is very boring!].
A topic is too broad to be managable when you find that you have too many different, and oftentimes conflicting and only remotely related, ideas about how to investigate the research problem. Although you will want to start the writing process by considering a variety of different approaches to studying the research problem, you will need to narrow the focus of your investigation at some point. This way, you don't attempt to do too much in one paper.
Here are some strategies to help focus your topic into something more manageable:
- Aspect -- choose one lens through which to view the research problem, or look at just one facet of it [e.g., rather than studying the role of food in Eastern religious rituals; study the role of food in Hindu ceremonies, or, the role of one particular type of food among several religions].
- Components -- determine if your initial variables or unit of analyses can be broken into smaller parts, which can then be analyzed more precisely [e.g., a study of tobacco use among adolescents can focus on just chewing tobacco rather than all forms of usage or, rather than adolescents in general, focus on female adolescents in a certain age range who smoke].
- Place -- the smaller the area of analysis, the more narrow the focus [e.g., rather than study trade relations in West Africa, study trade relations between Niger and Cameroon].
- Relationship -- how do two or more different perspectives or variables relate to one another? [e.g., cause/effect, compare/contrast, contemporary/historical, group/individual, male/female, opinion/reason, problem/solution].
- Time -- the shorter the time period, the more narrow the focus.
- Type -- focus your topic in terms of a specific type or class of people, places, or things [e.g., a study of traffic patterns near schools can focus only on SUVs, or just student drivers, or just the timing of stoplights in the area].
- Combination -- use two or more of the above strategies to focus your topic very narrowly.
NOTE: Apply one of the above first to determine if that gives you a manageable research problem to investigate; combining multiple strategies risks creating the opposite problem--your topic becomes too narrowly defined and you can't locate enough research or data to support your study.
Coming Up With Your Topic. Institute for Writing Rhetoric. Dartmouth College; Narrowing a Topic. Writing Center. University of Kansas; Narrowing Topics. Writing@CSU. Colorado State University; Strategies for Narrowing a Topic. University Libraries. Information Skills Modules. Virginia Tech University; The Process of Writing a Research Paper. Department of History. Trent University; Ways to Narrow Down a Topic. Contributing Authors. Utah State OpenCourseWare.
"The World Bank is a vital source of financial and technical assistance to developing countries around the world. We are not a bank in the ordinary sense but a unique partnership to reduce poverty and support development. "
"Human Rights Watch is a nonprofit, nongovernmental human rights organization made up of more than 280 staff members around the globe. Its staff consists of human rights professionals including country experts, lawyers, journalists, and academics of diverse backgrounds and nationalities."
"The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) is an independent, nonpartisan membership organization, think tank, and publisher."
"In July 2010, the United Nations General Assembly created UN Women, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. In doing so, UN Member States took an historic step in accelerating the Organization’s goals on gender equality and the empowerment of women. The creation of UN Women came about as part of the UN reform agenda, bringing together resources and mandates for greater impact."
"WHO is the directing and coordinating authority for health within the United Nations system. It is responsible for providing leadership on global health matters, shaping the health research agenda, setting norms and standards, articulating evidence-based policy options, providing technical support to countries and monitoring and assessing health trends."
"We believe that nurturing and caring for children are the cornerstones of human progress. UNICEF was created with this purpose in mind – to work with others to overcome the obstacles that poverty, violence, disease and discrimination place in a child’s path. We believe that we can, together, advance the cause of humanity. "
"We are Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). We help people worldwide where the need is greatest, delivering emergency medical aid to people affected by conflict, epidemics, disasters or exclusion from health care."
"The IMF works to foster global growth and economic stability. It provides policy advice and financing to members in economic difficulties and also works with developing nations to help them achieve macroeconomic stability and reduce poverty."
"Amnesty International is a global movement of more than 3 million supporters, members and activists in over 150 countries and territories who campaign to end grave abuses of human rights. Our vision is for every person to enjoy all the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights standards."
Created for high school students researching current social issues from multiple perspectives.
A nonprofit public charity that has no government affiliations of any kind whose purpose is to provide resources for critical thinking and to educate without bias. They do not express opinions on their research projects ("issue websites").
One of the country's oldest and largest nonpartisan, nonprofit investigative news organizations. Their mission is to enhance democracy by revealing abuses of power, corruption and betrayal of trust by powerful public and private institutions, using the tools of investigative journalism.
DebateGraph is an award-winning, cloud-based service that offers individuals and communities a powerful way to learn about and deliberate and decide on complex issues.
A wiki encyclopedia of debates, arguments, and supporting quotations. Founded by the International Debate Education Association, its mission is to become "the Wikipedia of debates". Be sure to evaluate for credibility.
Use this subject guide to find websites evaluated by librarians.
The Oyez Project at Chicago-Kent is a multimedia archive devoted to the Supreme Court of the United States and its work. Their mission is to make the work of the Supreme Court of the US accessible to everyone through text, images, audio, and video.
Founded in 1975, Public Agenda is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that helps diverse leaders and citizens navigate complex, divisive issues and work together to find solutions.
Provides a listing of links on various issues and causes followed by a listing of related websites.
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