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Narrowing Topics
What could go wrong?
A topic that is too broad will be difficult or impossible to adequately address in the space and time allowed. You are likely to run into a number of problems if your topic is too broad:
  • You find too many information sources and are unable to identify the most useful ones
  • You find information that is too general to make a focused paper out of
  • The information covers a wide variety of ideas that can't be integrated into one paper
  • The paper is either extremely difficult to complete or of poor quality - or both!
How to fix it:
Narrow your topic by combining it with related concepts: places, events, people, etc. These concepts must fit with the original topic to create an interesting and feasible topic.
If you aren't sure which concepts would work well, you may need to use background resources to learn more about your topic.
(This section is adapted from part 3 of Duke University's Guide to Library Research)
How to fix it: an example
Too-broad topic: "Censorship"
The Penn library system has hundreds of books and thousands of articles about censorship.One way to narrow "censorship" to a manageable topic is to combine it with related concepts:
Questions
...and answers
  Where?
...United States, New York City, England, etc.
  When?
...Now, Early 20th century, Victorian Period, etc.
  Who?
...Socialists, Immigrants, Women, Catholics
  Related events?
...Civil War, McCarthyism
  Type?
...Newspapers, Television, Movies, Comics, etc.
Narrower topics:
Censorship of newspapers during the Red scare
Censorship of books in Victorian England
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