LEGALST R1B: Race and the Law

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?

Thought experiments to try:

  • Think about your topic from the disciplinary perspective.  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?"
  • Think about 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?"

Take a look at our brief tutorial on topic selection and narrowing. (Slides 5-9 of the tutorial deal with topic narrowing.)

Getting Started with Libraries

In addition to the UC Digital Collections and the large Doe Moffitt Library, there are several subject specific libraries on campus.  If your legal studies topic overlaps or intersects with another discipline, such as public health, business, social welfare, psychology, education, ethnic studies, governmental studies, you should consider a visit to the relevant specialty library.  Check the Libraries webpage for links to each specialty library's collections, hours and services.  You will also see links to some of the special collections at Doe Moffitt, and the rich archival and special collections at the Bancroft Library.

Digital collections span the globe.  Fortunately, the web makes it possible to search these collections, although full-text viewing is not always guaranteed (free or otherwise).  Although search engines such as Google may be useful as a start, the best way to search any digital collection is to use the search engine most closely affiliated with the content.  For example, to search the African American/American Memory online collection produced by the Library of Congress, use its native search engine.

Last Update: November 21, 2013 09:23