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How do I: Define and narrow your topic

Narrow or Broaden

Narrow Your Topic



Broaden Your Topic


To make it more focused and interesting



To find more information


Apply Who, What, When, Where, How and Why Questions



Think of Similar or Parallel Topics


Apply Discipline Specific Context:

Use your readings from class or in subject specific encyclopedias to get ideas



Take a Step Back and Think of the Larger Ideas Surrounding Your Topic




Example: Organically Grown Food



What standards must a farmer adhere to for USDA Certification? (What & How)

What demographic tends to purchase the most organically grown foods? (Who)



Genetically Modified Crops (Parallel)

Government Regulation of Food (Parallel)


Is there a nutritional difference between conventionally grown and organically grown foods? (Biology)

What are effective marketing strategies for organically grown foods? (Business)


Does American Agriculture Promote Healthy Eating? (Larger Idea)

What trends in eating have emerged in the United States in the last 2 decades? (Larger Idea)


Unpacking Your Assignment


Have you been assigned a topic or can you chose your own?


→The "Developing A Topic" video can help you if you are choosing your own topic (see below).


How many pages will your paper be? Or how long will your presentation be?


Are you required to use a certain number of books or journal articles?


Are you required to include specific types of research resources such as scholarly, peer-reviewed, primary, current?


What is the purpose of your assignment? Can you explain it to a friend?


→Note prompts from your professor like "compare and contrast"; "trace the development of"; "construct a well-researched argument"; "support your conclusion" to know what your assignment should do. If you still don't understand, ask!


When is it due?


→Create a time line that breaks up the work into chunks:


·         Do background reading to understand the topic--what are the important issues, people, events, vocabulary? Use your text and subject encyclopedias


·         Put your topic into a question form--your paper is the answer to the question.


·         Gather keywords for searches in the library catalog and appropriate library databases. Ask for help from a librarian if needed.


·         Gather your materials, read, highlight and/or take notes.


·         Write a draft of your paper. Get feedback from a classmate, The Writing & Media Lab, or your professor.


·         Write final version of your paper.


·         Make your bibliography or works cited page. The library has tools to help with this.