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How to Broaden or Narrow Your Topic

Students often remark that it is sometimes more difficult to find a lot of information in databases. Databases ARE smaller than the the entire world of web information, but the results will likely be more relevant and relaible. 

But you need to learn how each database interface works. And you'll need to learn how to broaden or narrow your focus.

How to Narrow A Topic

Ask Yourself Questions About Your Topic:

  • What do you know about it? What don't you know?
  • What aspects of your topic interest you: historical, sociological, psychological, etc.?
  • What time period do you want to cover?
  • On what geographic region do you want to focus?
  • What kind of information do you need?
    • A brief summary or a lengthy explanation?
    • Periodical articles, books, essays, encyclopedia articles?
    • Statistics?

Example: I'm thinking of doing a paper on an environmental subject. This topic could develop in many different ways.

General Topic: the environment
Time span: 1960s to the present
Place: oceans, Los Angeles
Person or group: organizations working on the issues
Event or Aspects: behavior; sociological; changes

 

How to Broaden Your Topic

Example: I'm doing a paper about a particular artist who graduated from Otis

This topic as stated may not have many many articles yet written about it. How can this be turned into a more manageable topic?

Look for  broader associations:

  • Could you examine a movement or type of art the artist is associated with?
  • Could you think broadly about the success of art school graduates -- what might these be?
  • What other issues are involved in this topic? Such as, artists as teachers.
Specific Topic: Robert Glover, ceramics artist
Alternate focus: Ceramics artists

Alternate Place:

California, the U.S.

Focus on a Person or Group:

Post WWI art movement, ceramics programs in a specific college, California artists, ceramics in terms of crafts vs. fine arts
Focus on an Event or Aspect: Getty Pacific Standard Time initiative, an exhibition about "Clay in L.A.:

 

And there's always this option: Ask a reference librarian!