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Writing 10 (Devrick): Manage Your Topic

College Reading & Composition

Topic Selection

Finding the Right Scope for Your Topic

Narrow Your Topic or Research Question

It's very common to select a topic or formulate a question that starts out too broad

Question 1:  How beneficial or problematic is cell phone use for our society? (broad)

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.  It's also hard to write a paper or give a presentation with any depth. 

Most scholarly research examines fairly narrow topics and looks at relationships between concepts.  For example, cell phones is a pretty broad topic, but looking at the impact of cell phone manufacturing on the environment might be a more manageable topic.

There are many ways to narrow a topic that is too broad by asking one or more W questions.  Let's use cell phones as an example:

  • cell phones and disposal (what)
  • cell phones and toxicity (what)
  • cell phones and interpersonal relationships (what)
  • cell phones and India (where)
  • cell phones and corporations (who)
  • cell phones and teenagers (who) and distracted driving (what)
  • cell phones and precious metals (what) and Rwanda (where)

Use W questions, to develop a research question on the topic of cell phones:

Question 2:  How can precious metals in cell phones be recycled more effectively? (narrowed)