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Basic Research Process

Refining Your Topic

  • A good research topic is broad enough for you to find plenty of material but, narrow enough to fit the length and time limits of your paper.​​
  • If you do not find enough information, your topic may be too narrow in some way - broaden it.
  • If you find too much information, your topic may be too broad - narrow it. 
  • You can adjust your topic and question by following the tips and examples below.

Modifying a Topic

If you don't find enough information, your topic may be too narrow.

Broaden the topic by changing these elements

Be More General

Generalize your topic. If your topic is the economic effects of hydraulic fracturing in oil drilling on Troy, PA, broaden your topic to all Pennsylvania communities or the United States.​

Change the Time Frame

If your topic is very current in the news, there may not be books or journal articles available yet. Choose an alternative topic that is not so recent or dig deeper to see if there are other terms describing the topic.

Database Choices

Consider using databases in a related subject area which might cover the topic from a different perspective.​Use other research guides or databases in your subject area.

Find Synonyms

Use a thesaurus to find synonyms for your topic. When reading background information, note the terms used.​

Look at Related Issues

Explore related or similar issues.​

Expand / Remove Elements

Expand or remove: location, time period, aspect, event, population, person/group.​


Narrow Topic:
 Effect of water quality on brain function among children in Buford, Wyoming.

Broader Topic: Effect of water quality on children's health in Wyoming.

References:

Garrett-Tripp Library. (2019, January). How to do research: A step-by-step guide: 1e. refine a topicElmira College. Retrieved from https://libguides.elmira.edu/research/refine_topic

If you find too much information, your topic is likely too broad.

Narrow the topic by changing these elements

 Use a More Specific Time

Civil War, Iron Age, 1920's, 18th Century

Smaller Area or Different Location

Europe, U.S., New York state, urban, eastern

Narrow it to a Different Population

age, race, gender, nationality, ethnic group, occupation

 Use one Event or one Aspect of it

government regulations related to cloning, Battle of the Bulge in WWII

 Choose a Person or Group

College students, Democrats, Republicans


Broad Topic: War

Narrower Topic: What were the social impacts of World War II on parents in England?

References:

Garrett-Tripp Library. (2019, January). How to do research: A step-by-step guide: 1e. refine a topicElmira College. Retrieved from https://libguides.elmira.edu/research/refine_topic