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Research Process: Researching and Writing: Refine Your Topic

This guide has been created to provide quick access to resources that support the research process.

Refine Your Topic

Performing background research may reveal that your topic or research question is too broad (large) in focus or too narrow (small) in focus. You may have found too many or too few results to meet your information needs or assignment requirements. For example, a topic like "race horses" will be too broad and return many results and potential areas for research. In contrast, a topic like "race horse cardiovascular injuries on synthetic surfaces" will be too narrow to find substantial research.

If you returned too many results, it can be helpful to narrow the focus of your research. Here are some techniques to help narrow your topic.

Technique                  Time Period

Ask Yourself   Can my topic focus on a specific time or date range? In the past decade or specific year?

Example   Ethanol fuel production

Narrowed   Ethanol fuel production in the past five years

Technique                  Place

Ask Yourself   Does my topic have a local focus? Can I focus on a specific geographic region or area?

Example   Wetlands restoration

Narrowed   Wetlands restoration in Ontario


Technique                 Population

Ask Yourself  Can I limit the topic to a specific gender, age group, income level, ethnicity, nationality, education?

Example  Public smoking bans

Narrowed  Public smoking bans and their impact on children's health


Technique                 Viewpoint

Ask Yourself  Can I focus on a political, philosophical, ethical, social, legal, or economic aspect or viewpoint?

Example   Economic impacts of drug testing

Narrowed  Economic impacts of drug testing on welfare recipients


Technique                  Person/Group

Ask Yourself  Is there an individual or group relevant to my topic?

Example   Performance enhancing drugs

Narrowed  Performance enhancing drug use in Major League Baseball

Brock University. (n.d.). Refine 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. Here are some techniques to help broaden your topic.

Technique                     Generalize

 Ask Yourself   Is my topic too specific? Can I use more general terms to describe the topic?

 Example   Ethanol fuel production

Broadened  Ethanol fuel production in the past five years

Technique                     Synonyms

Ask Yourself   Is there another way to say my topic? Are there any related terms?

Example   Road safety in Ontario

Broadened  Vehicle safety in Eastern Canada

Technique                       Eliminate Concepts

 Ask Yourself   Am I trying to research too many concepts at a time? Can I eliminate one or more?

 Example  Traffic regulation effects on light truck crashes in people under 30

 Broadened  Traffic regulations and truck crashes

Technique                       Currency

 Ask Yourself   Is my topic so new that there is not much research yet? Can I look at a larger issue instead?

 Example   Football related concussions this year

 Broadened   Football related injuries in the past five years

Brock University. (n.d.). Refine your topic.