How do I Narrow or Broaden My Topic?

One way to narrow down a very broad topic is to do some brainstorming. Here’s what you do:

  1. Write your broad topic on a piece of paper.
  2. Think of as many related words, ideas, and issues as you can that have to do with your topic. Write them down on a piece of paper. Don’t worry about organizing them or making neat lists at this point — just brainstorm.
  3. Look at all of the terms and try to group them into categories. For example, classic rock, rap, country, and heavy metal are all types of music, so you would group them together.
  4. You should have several narrower and related topics to work with. If any of your narrow topics prove to be too narrow, you can always broaden it using your chart.

Here’s an example of brainstorming using the topic “music”.

Concept Map of Music

Another of our favorite techniques for fine-tuning a topic is to use the formula traditionally employed by newspaper reporters–Who?-What?-Where?-When?-Why?

Who is involved?

A particular age group, occupation, ethnic group, men, women, etc. For example, if you are interested in writing about depression, you might focus on depression in children, or depression in the elderly.

What is the problem?

What is the issue facing the “who” in your topic–violence, health concerns, job and economic trends, family issues? You may find it helpful to state your topic as a question. For example, if you are interested in finding out about violence in schools, you might ask: Are there are preventive measures that can be taken by educators to prevent violence in schools?

Where is this happening?

A specific country, province, city, rural vs. urban environment, physical environment, etc. For example, you could focus on economic development in the former Soviet republics or health care in rural America.

When is this happening?

Is this a current issue or an historical event? Will you want to discuss the historical development of a current problem?

Why is this happening/Why is this a problem?

You may want to focus on the suggested causes of the problem or issue you are researching. You may also want to assert the importance of this problem by outlining its historical or current ramifications. For some projects, you may want to persuade your instructor or class why they should care about the issue.

What if you find that your topic seems too narrow?

You can use the same technique as discussed above to find ways to broaden your scope. For example, an issue facing workers in a steel mill may be similar to issues in other manufacturing sectors of the economy. A current issue may have parallels to historical events. A problem confronting children in south Texas could be compared or contrasted with the experience of children in Mexico. To broaden a topic, think of “analogous” or similar elements that could be added to your discussion.