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  • English 111/112: Narrow/Broaden Your Topic

    A brief introduction to some of the concepts and resources discussed in the English 111/112 library instruction visits.

    Narrow Your Topic

    How to Narrow Your Topic

    If your topic is too broad or vague, you will find too much information and will need to narrow the focus.

    Example: “I'm thinking of doing a paper on technology."

    You can write a multi-volume work on technology. How can this be turned into a more manageable topic?

    Define the topic by asking these questions:

    • When you think of this topic, what do you picture - the Internet, computer design software, automobiles, pre-historic tools, washing machines? All of these inventions are parts or facets of the greater topic – technology.
    • What do you know about technology? What don't you know?
    • What aspects of your topic interest you: historical, sociological, psychological, mechanical, 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?

    Sample Topic Narrowing Chart: 

    General topic:


    Facets of topic:

    automobiles, cellular telephones, wireless technology, text messaging, social networking, GPS systems


    legal; psychological, social

    Time span:

    1990s; current


    United States; urban; rural; China

    Narrowed Research Question:

    Should cell phone use be banned while driving?

    Taken from UCLA Library

    Broaden Your Topic

    How to Broaden Your Topic

    If your topic is very specific or new, it will be difficult to find enough information to write your paper.

    Example: "I’m thinking of doing a paper on how the recent war in Iraq is affecting Iraqis in the US workforce."

    The above topic as stated is seeking to answer a question for which there may be no answer yet -- more scientific and long-term research may need to be done. How can this be turned into a more manageable topic?

    Hint: Look for parallels and opportunities for broader associations:

    • Could you examine other cultural groups in America that have emigrated from countries at war with the US?
    • Could you think broadly about prejudice and the workplace?
    • Who are the key players in this scenario:
      • Iraqi immigrants? 
      • The US Government? 
      • Employers? 
      • Other employees?
    • What other issues are involved in this topic:
      • Such as, how is life in general for Iraqis in the United States?

    Sample Topic Broadening Chart: 

    Specific topic:

    How has the present war in Iraq affected Iraqis in the U.S. workforce?

    Alternate Focus:

    Other immigrants whose country of origin may be at war with the U.S.; How Iraqis in general are managing in the U.S.; History of this issue with other cultural groups.

    Alternate Place:

    A single country or group of European countries

    Brainstorm Focus on Person or Group:

    Immigrants from enemy countries vs. employers

    Brainstorm Focus on Event or Aspect:

    Salaries; hiring policies, abuse in the workplace; 20th century

    Broadened Research Question:

    During the past century in the American workplace, what obstacles have been faced by immigrants from a country at war with the United States?

     Taken from UCLA Library