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Psychology 136 (Scott)

Finding the Right Scope for Your Topic

Narrow Your Topic

When the scope of your topic is too big, it's hard to dig through the huge volume of  information available to find something relevant.  Most scholarly research examines fairly narrow topics and looks at relationships between concepts.  For example, parenting styles is a pretty broad topic, but looking at the relationship between parenting styles and physical activity might be a more manageable topic.

There are many ways to narrow a topic that is too broad.  Let's use parenting as an example:

  • "parenting styles" and exercise (what)
  • "parenting styles and "academic achievement" (what)
  • "parenting styles" and  "college students" (who)
  • "parenting styles" and the United States (where)

Use 2 or 3 of these concepts develop a research question on the topic of parenting styles

How do parenting styles effect children's social relationships in young adulthood?

Finding the Right Search Terms

Consider your Keywords

Your initial search may not include all of the resources written about your topic. To capture additional resources, try a series of new searches using different or additional keywords that are related to your topic. 

  • Do some background reading on the subject using articles in Credo Reference. Credo Reference is like Wikipedia, but pulls from published reference sources. 
  • Use a visual thesaurus like Snappy Words, Visuwords, or GraphWords 
  • Most EBSCO databases have a tool to help you discover subject terms. See EBSCO Academic Search Complete > Subject Terms
  • Most ProQuest databases have a tool to help you discover subject terms: See PsycInfo > Thesaurus
  • Do some initial database searches. You may find additional search terms by skimming the  titles in the results list.
  • When you find a useful article, look at the database Subject Headings and record them as possible search terms. (Example)