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Locating and Using Agricultural Resources: Manage Your Topic

This guide is to help locate agricultural resources, including databases, datasets, and historical archival material, reports, publications, and data.

Finding the Right Scope for Your Topic

Narrow Your Topic

It's very common to select a topic that's too 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 of with any depth.  Most scholarly research examines fairly narrow topics and looks at relationships between concepts.  For example, affirmative action is a huge topic, but looking at the relationship between affirmative action and self esteem might be a more manageable topic.

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

  • affirmative action and the law (what)
  • affirmative action and self esteem (what)
  • affirmative action and the military (what)
  • affirmative action and medical education (what)
  • affirmative action in California (where)
  • affirmative action and women (who)
  • affirmative action and latinos (who)
  • affirmative action and blacks (who)
  • affirmative action in the 1970s (when)

Use these concepts develop a research question on the topic of affirmative action:

  • Has affirmative action changed medical education for women?
  • Have latinos in California benefitted from affirmative action?
  • Are there more high ranking black officers in the military because of affirmative action?

Broaden Your Topic

It is possible to generate a topic that's too narrow.  When the scope of your topic is too small, there may not be enough information available for your paper or presentation.  For example, this affirmative action-related topic is probably too narrow:

Did affirmative action policies benefit medical education opportunities for women from Atwater, California in the 1970's.

To find enough information, you might need to broaden the who (change women to minorities) and the where (change Atwater to California) concepts in this question.  You might also need to omit the limited time frame.

Here are a few more examples of narrowing a broad topic down to a manageable topic one step at a time.

  • political correctness > political correctness and universities > Are universities equally tolerant to politically correct and politically incorrect viewpoints?
  • social media > social media and bullying > The effect of social media on bullying behaviors among U.S. teenagers
  • academic freedom > academic freedom and politic* > Does academic freedom exist on both sides of the political aisle? 

    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:  To what extent is social media a problem for 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 of with any depth. 

    Most scholarly research examines fairly narrow topics and looks at relationships between concepts.  For example, social media is a pretty broad topic, but looking at the relationship between social media and privacy 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 social media as an example:

    • social media and privacy (what)
    • social media and "facial recognition" (what)
    • social media and teenagers (who)
    • social media and the United States (where)

    Use how, what, or where (two or three) to develop a research question on the topic of social media:

    Question 2:  Will social media's use of facial recognition destroy privacy? (narrowed)

     

    Search Strategy

    stages of research process

    Topics, Concepts & Terms

    working with topics

    images from http://office.microsoft.com

    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 does college benefit students? (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 of with any depth. 

    Most scholarly research examines fairly narrow topics and looks at relationships between concepts.  For example, college is a pretty broad topic, but looking at the relationship between college and student participation in clubs and extracurriculars 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 college as an example:

    • college and privacy (what)
    • college and violence (what)
    • college and non-traditional students (who)
    • college and the United States (where)

    Use how, what, or where (two or three) to develop a research question on the topic of college:

    Question 2:  Does participation in clubs and extracurricular activities while in college lead to greater life satisfaction for graduates? (narrowed)

    Quiz Question #1

    Is this topic too broad, too narrow, or just about right?

    How did banks contribute to the current international financial crisis?

    Quiz Question #1
    Too broad: 12 votes (100%)
    Too narrow: 0 votes (0%)
    Just about right: 0 votes (0%)
    Total Votes: 12

    Quiz Question #2

    Is this topic too broad, too narrow, or just about right?

    What impact do olympic heroes have on youth sports programs in Rochester, New York?

    Quiz Question #2
    Too broad: 1 votes (10%)
    Too narrow: 8 votes (80%)
    Just about right: 1 votes (10%)
    Total Votes: 10

    Quiz Question #3

    Is this topic too broad, too narrow, or just about right?

    How does American food culture shape the eating behaviors of children?

    Quiz Question #3
    Too broad: 2 votes (15.38%)
    Too narrow: 0 votes (0%)
    Just about right: 11 votes (84.62%)
    Total Votes: 13

    Using Keywords

    Narrow your Research Question with the 5 Ws

    5WH Method

    • Who are the major figures associated with the topic? (e.g., Karl Marx, Albert Einstein, students, kittens)
    • What is the description of the topic? What is happening?
    • Where does the topic operate? (e.g., Eastern Europe, basal ganglia, California)
    • When is the timeframe for this topic? This can often be combined with “where” (e.g., Jurassic Era, antebellum American South, 21st-century inner-city Chicago)
    • Why is this significant to others in the field? Why is this happening?
    • How can your topic be tested? How do you describe the relationship between your concepts?