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STEP THREE: REFINE YOUR TOPIC

Once you have found some background information you can refine your broad research topic into a narrow, focused topic. The sooner you can develop a broad subject into a focused topic, the sooner you can shape your research into a final product.

On the other hand, if your subject is too focused or detailed, you may have a hard time finding enough sources. In this case, you will need to broaden your topic.

Narrowing A Topic
A topic that covers too much material is a common problem for students. Depending on your interests, a general topic can be focused in many ways. If you are having trouble narrowing your topic, consider the following questions:

Broadening a Topic
Topics that are too narrow are fairly simple to fix. You can broaden the scope of your topic by:
  • Lengthening time periods
  • Increasing specific geographic areas
  • Adding specific people or interest groups
  • Altering the focus of the subject, or discipline.

In addition, sometimes a topic may be too recent and sources to your research questions may not yet exist. If that is the case you may have to expand your topic to include the broader issue.

State Your Topic as a Question.
By posing your topic as a question you can more narrowly define what aspect of the topic you want to write about or what position you want to take.

For example, if you are doing research about the use of alcoholic beverages by college students, you might pose the question:

"What effect does the use of alcoholic beverages have on the health of college students?"

It's important to have more than one idea and to be flexible - you may have to narrow, broaden, or even change your topic as you move through the research process.

Identify the Main Concepts or Keywords in Your Question
At this stage, identify the main concepts or keywords in your question or thesis statement, and formulate your search query. The "query" is the translation of your research question or thesis statement into keywords or phrases that the index or database you search will understand.

Using the above assignment topic, the keywords are:

Identify Synonyms and Alternate Keywords
Once you have identified the keywords in the question you formulated, you may want to check a dictionary or thesaurus, for synonyms and antonyms for these topic keywords, to develop a list of alternate words which you can use in your search. It may help to chart out the words you find. Using the above assignment topic, we could use the following alternate keywords:

KEYWORDS          

ALTERNATE KEWORDS

alcoholic beverages

alcohol

liquor

drinking

binge drinking

beer

health illness
sickness
disease
alcoholism
death
college students undergraduates
university
campus


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Last Modified: 10 August 2005