How to Narrow Your Topic
"I'm writing a paper on World War II."
Often students start their research with a very general topic, even though they may realize the topic is too large to deal with in a 10-15 page paper. Faculty and librarians tell them, "You have to narrow this down." But how do you narrow a topic?
- What discipline am I working in? If you are in a sociology class, ask a sociological question about World War II, like "How did WWII affect women?" If it's a political science class, your question might be something like "How did WWII affect presidential elections in the US?"
- What are some subsets or aspects of your topic. Some good aspects are:
- by place, such as a country or region
- by time period, such as a century, decade or year
- by population, such as men, women, ethnic group, youth, children or elderly
You can combine these ideas, "What were the major impacts of WWII on women in France, in the decade after the war?"
More ideas in our brief tutorial on topic selection and narrowing.
Choosing a Discipline
So, how do you know what disciplines you should use?
- Look at the department your class is offered by. That's a pretty obvious clue.
- Think about what other disciplines might discuss your topic. For instance, a paper on Education in Chile could involve both Education and Latin American Studies.
What do you do with this information? Search in the article databases dedicated to those disciplines. Here's a list of databases for each discipline, by campus.
- Berkeley databases
- Davis databases
- Irvine databases
- Los Angeles databases
- Merced databases
- Riverside databases
- San Diego databases
- Santa Barbara databases
- Santa Cruz
When to Use Books | When to Use Articles?
So you need scholarly resources for your paper. These can be either books or articles: How do you know when to use which?
• Long• Information tends to be less current because it takes time to write and publish a book. • Subject matter is broad; can give an overview of a topic • Find them using a library catalog
• Briefer; like an article • Information tends to be less current because it takes time to write and publish a book. • Subject matter is narrow, like an article; could be a case study for example. • Find them using a database/ search engine, like JSTOR
• Briefer • Information tends to be more recent than books • But not as current as news items • Subject matter is narrow; could be a case study for example • Find them using a database/ search engine, like JSTOR
For more information see our tutorial