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Research Foundations: Refine Your Topic

Too Narrow, Too Broad, or Just Right?

Performing background research may reveal that your topic or research question is too broad (large) in focus or too narrow (small) in focus. You may have found too many or too few results to meet your information needs or assignment requirements. For example, a topic like "race horses" will be too broad and return many results and potential areas for research. In contrast, a topic like "race horse cardiovascular injuries on synthetic surfaces" will be too narrow to find substantial research.

If you suspect your topic or research question is too narrow or too broad, proceed to the next sections for tips on how to fix these issues.

Narrow Your Topic

If you returned too many results, it can be helfpul to narrow the focus of your research.

Here are some techniques to help narrow your topic.

Technique Ask Yourself Example Narrowed
Time Period Can my topic focus on a specific time or date range? In the past decade or specific year? In the future? ethanol fuel production ethanol fuel production in the past five years
Place Does my topic have a local focus? Can I focus on a specific geographic region or area? wetlands restoration wetlands restoration in Florida
Population Can I limit the topic to a specific gender, age group, income level, ethnicity, nationality, education level, etc.? public smoking bans public smoking bans and their impact on children's health
Viewpoint Can I focus on a political, philosophical, ethical, social, legal, or economic aspect or viewpoint? economic impacts of drug testing economic impacts of drug testing on welfare recipients
Is there an individual or group relevant to my topic? performance enhancing drugs performance enhancing drug use in Major League Baseball

Broaden Your Topic

Your topic or research question could potentially be too narrow or specific to find enough information. Since most topics involve multiple aspects and different contexts, you may need to broaden your topic to find acceptable resources. When expanding your topic, make sure it still reflects the same main idea.

Here are some techniques to help broaden your topic.

Technique Ask Yourself Example Broadened
Generalize Is my topic too specific? Can I use more general terms to describe the topic? cytogenic damage caused by smokeless tobacco health risks of smokeless tobacco
Synonyms Is there another way to say my topic? Are there any related terms? road safety in Florida vehicle safety in the Southeastern United States
Eliminate Concepts Am I trying to research too many concepts at a time? Can I eliminate one or more? traffic regulation effects on light truck crashes in people under 30 traffic regulations and truck crashes
Currency Is my topic so new that there is not much research on it yet? Can I look at a larger issue instead? football related concussions this year football related injuries in the past five years