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How to Start the Research Process

A guide for starting the research paper and project process.

Too Narrow, Too Broad, or Just Right?

Finding background research may reveal your topic is too broad or too narrow in focus.

You may have found too many or too few results to meet your needs or assignment requirements. For example, a topic like "health care" will be too broad and return many results and potential areas for research. In contrast, a topic like "cardiovascular issues of Bosnian immigrants in the St. Louis area" will return very few results, so you may need to broaden your search.

Narrow Your Topic

Techniques to narrow your topic

Technique Ask Yourself Example Narrowed
Time Period Can my topic focus on a specific time or date range? In the past decade or specific year? In the future? prescription drug prices prescription drug prices in the past five years
Place Does my topic have a local focus? Can I focus on a specific geographic region or area? Bubonic plague Bubonic plague in Italy
Population Can I limit the topic to a specific gender, age group, income level, ethnicity, nationality, education level, etc.? public smoking bans public smoking bans and their impact on children's health
Viewpoint Can I focus on a political, philosophical, ethical, social, legal, or economic aspect or viewpoint? economic impacts of drug testing economic impacts of drug testing on welfare recipients
Person/Group Is there an individual or group relevant to my topic? performance enhancing drugs performance-enhancing drug use in Major League Baseball

Broaden Your Topic

Techniques to broaden your topic

Your topic or research question could potentially be too narrow or specific to find enough information. Since most topics involve multiple aspects and different contexts, you may need to broaden your topic to find acceptable resources. When expanding your topic, make sure it still reflects the same main idea.

Technique Ask Yourself Example Broadened
Generalize Is my topic too specific? Can I use more general terms to describe the topic? Cytogenic damage caused by smokeless tobacco Health risks of smokeless tobacco
Synonyms Is there another way to say my topic? Are there any related terms? Fracking Hydraulic fracturing in the United States
Eliminate Concepts Am I trying to research too many concepts at a time? Can I eliminate one or more? Measles outbreak in Syrian refugee camps Infectious disease outbreaks in refugee camps