How to Narrow Your Topic

Get background information on your topic

  • Find books on your topic and identify related issues 
  • Find a brief overview of your topic in an encyclopedia
  • Make a list of keywords identified when browsing. This will help you to narrow your topic.

Is your topic is too broad?

Do a preliminary search in an article database. If your search retrieves too many articles, with many of them unrelated to your topic, you need to narrow your topic.

Ways to narrow your topic:

  1. Focus on a related issue or sub topic by adding another search term

    • Sample topic: genetically modified foods
    • Narrowed search: genetically modified foods and labeling
    • Narrowed search: genetically modified foods and health
  2. Limit by age group and/or geographic area

    • Sample topic: homelessness
    • Narrowed search: homelessness and youth
    • Narrowed search: homelessness and youth and British Columbia
  3. Change your original search term by choosing a narrower issue related to the broad topic

    • Sample topic: policing
    • Narrowed search: police brutality
    • Narrowed search: tasers
  4. Do a subject search instead of a keyword search (You must first identify the correct subject terms used in the database. In this sample, "domestic violence" and "alcohol abuse" are used instead of "family violence" and "alcohol use".)

    • Sample topic: family violence and alcohol use
    • Narrowed search: domestic violence and alcohol abuse
  5. Limit to peer-reviewed journals if this is a requirement of your assignment Remember: as you progress with your research, when possible, use the subject terms that are used in the database to describe your topic. These terms may appear at the bottom of the citation or on the detailed screen of an item.

Need help? Ask a Librarian.

Last Updated: 10/11/2014 3:47:36 PM