Ways to Narrow Down a Topic
How do I Know If My Topic Needs to be Narrowed?
Most students will have to narrow down their topic at least a little. The first clue is that your paper needs to be narrowed is simply the length your professor wants it to be. You can't properly discuss "war" in 1,000 words, nor talk about orange rinds for 12 pages. Preliminary research also helps you determine whether or not you'll even need to refine your topic.
The amount of resources is often a good guide. For example, if you knew that you didn't need more than six to eight references for your paper and there are over 50 books, that's a good sign to narrow your subject area to a more specific topic. Or, if you are writing a fifteen page paper and you can't find more than three sources, you will have to broaden your topic. 1
The other great guide, which is somewhat subjective, is the popularity of the subject area or topic itself. Consider how popular your topic is with the general public? In a college setting? With your fellow classmates? If your subject wouldn't be interesting to any of those audiences, you may want to reconsider your topic. 1
Steps to Narrowing a Topic
First start out with a general topic. Take the topic and break it
down into categories by asking the five W’s and H.
- Who? (American Space Exploration)
- What? (Manned Space Missions)
- Where? (Moon Exploration)
- When? (Space exploration in the 1960's)
- Why? (Quest to leave Earth)
- How? (Rocket to the Moon: Space Exploration)
Now consider the following question areas to generate specific
ideas to narrow down your topic.
- Problems faced? (Sustaining Life in Space: Problems with space exploration)
- Problems overcome? (Effects of zero gravity on astronauts)
- Motives (Beating the Russians: Planning a moon mission)
- Effects on a group? (Renewing faith in science: aftershock of the Moon mission)
- Member group? (Designing a moon lander: NASA engineers behind Apollo 11)
- Group affected? (From Test Pilots to Astronauts: the new heroes of the Air force)
- Group benefited? (Corporations that made money from the American Space Program)
- Group responsible for/paid for _____ (The billion dollar bill: taxpayer reaction to the cost of sending men to the moon)
Finally, refine your ideas by by considering the
- S = Similarities (Similar issues to overcome between the 1969 moon mission and the planned 2009 Mars Mission)
- O = Opposites (American pro and con opinions about the first mission to the moon)
- C = Contrasts (Protest or patriotism: different opinions about cost vs. benefit of the moon mission)
- R = Relationships (the NASA family: from the scientists on earth to the astronauts in the sky)
- A = Anthropomorphisms [interpreting reality in terms of human values] (Space: the final frontier)
- P = Personifications [giving objects or descriptions human qualities] (the eagle has landed: animal symbols and metaphors in the space program)
- R = Repetition (More missions to the moon: Pro and Con American attitudes to landing more astronauts on the moon) 2
If you are still having difficulty try combining a few ideas generated by the previous activities or visit the following links.