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Student Research Help - Topic

I need to know if my topic is too narrow or broad.

It's important to have a topic that is the right scope for your assignment. When you start developing your topic, the two main problems you may run into are having a topic that is too narrow or too broad.

Your topic is probably too narrow when:

  • you find very little--or nothing--written about it
  • you realize you can fully cover your topic in much fewer than the required number of words or pages

Your topic is probably too broad when:

  • you find too many sources or too much information--more than you could reasonably look through
  • you realize you won't have enough space in your paper to cover everything about your topic that you want to cover
  • you feel like your topic is pulling you in lots of different directions--it's hard to combine all of the information you are finding out about it

To narrow a topic that is too broad, try to pick one sub-topic of the topic to focus on. If you are having trouble thinking of a sub-topic, try asking yourself questions about your topic. The answers to those questions can reveal sub-topics that might offer a possible route to narrow your topic. Below are some examples of questions you can ask.

  • Who is an important/notable person related to this topic?
  • What is a specific type of this topic?
  • When did this topic happen? When was a notable time related to this topic?
  • Where did/does this topic happen? Where was/is a notable place related to this topic?
  • Why does this topic happen? Why is this topic important?
  • How does this topic happen? How do people work towards/against this topic?

For example, if your broad topic is the depiction of time travel in popular culture, you could ask yourself who a notable person related to this topic is. Your answer might be the fictional character of The Doctor, from the TV show Doctor Who. This gives you a narrower focus for your topic. Instead of writing about the depiction of time travel in all of popular culture, you can write just about one TV show.

To broaden a topic is too narrow, use this strategy in the reverse. Try to come up with broader categories into which your topic fits, and then choose one of those categories as your topic. For example, if your narrow topic is the Doctor Who episode "Blink," broader categories could be women in science fiction TV or David Tennant's portrayal of The Doctor.

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