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REFINING 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 finished paper. On the other hand, if you start out too focused or detailed, you may have a hard time finding enough sources to write an acceptable paper.

Research Tip: A topic is probably too broad if you can state it in four or five words. You can narrow a subject or topic by adding words that will eventually help you make a claim in your thesis statement. Consider using words like conflict, description (describe), contribution (contribute), or development (develop). If you narrow a topic by using nouns derived from verbs, you will be one step closer to a claim that could be challenging enough to keep you and your evaluator interested.

Narrowing a Subject to a Manageable 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. For example, if you want to do a paper on government funding of the arts, consider the following questions:
• What do you already know about this subject?
• Is there a specific time period you want to cover?
• Is there a geographic region or country on which you would like to focus?
• Is there a particular aspect of this topic that interests you? For example, public policy implications, historical influence, sociological aspects, psychological angles, specific groups or individuals involved in the topic, etc.
Consider creating a table (or grid) to use as a template for narrowing your subject into a manageable topic.

Example:
General Subject Government funding of the arts
Time Span 1930s
Place USA
Event or Aspects New Deal, painting, art, artists
Narrowed Topic Federal funding of artists through New
Deal programs and the Works Progress
Administration contributed to the country's
sense of well being during the Great
Depression.


Topics that are too narrow: Think of parallel and broader associations for your subject if you need a broader topic that will be easier to research. Sometimes a topic may be too new and sources to your research questions may not yet exist.
For example, if you want to do a paper on the effect of deforestation on Colombia's long-term ability to feed its citizens, consider the following questions:
• Could you examine other countries or regions in addition to Colombia?
• Could you think more broadly about this topic? Give thought to wider topics like agriculture and   sustainable development.
• Who are the key players in this topic? The government'? Citizens? International organizations?
• What other issues are involved in this topic?

For example, how can natural resources be allocated most economically to sustain the populace of Colombia?

Specific Topic What is the effect of deforestation on
Columbia's long-term ability to feed its
citizens?
Alternative Focus Agriculture, sustainable development
Alternative Place South America
Alternative Person or Group United Nations and its subgroups
Alternative Event or Aspect Birth Control
Broadened Topic How can the United Nations encourage
South American countries to employ
sustainable development practices?


Research Tip: You have likely narrowed your topic too severely if you cannot easily find resources.