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Foundations for Effective College Writing LAN 100s: Narrowing the Topic

Asking the Right Questions

Here are guidelines for developing a good research question:

Ask a question that can be answered within the parameters that the professor has given you. 

It should not be so narrow that a couple of facts could answer it - "Has the population of the earth increased in the last century?"

It should not so broad that you would have to write a whole book to answer it - "Why do some countries have a higher population than others?"

It should be quantifiable.  There should be measurable outcomes

Here are some questions to help you develop your research question:

Who? – a person, organization, or demographic group of interest.

What – an event, a theory, a discovery connected to the topic.

Where? – a city, state, country or geographic region.

When? – a time span, century, period of time . Often the “when” is part of the parameters of the assignment.

Why? – describe what is notable about this topic, or what interests you about the topic.

Borrow from the Experts

Based on the reference sources consulted:

  • Compile a list of terms used by the authors and experts of the general sources.
  • Compile a list of main concepts and issues mentioned in these sources.
  • Consult the citations in the general sources - Bibliographies and Works Cited.  These citations can lead you to other sources.

Expanding and Narrowing

EXPAND your search results: 

  • Mix and match search terms: think through a wide variety of ways the author may describe the topic. (War- conflict, fighting, combat, hostilities) 
  • Use a different database, or search across the databases: databases are often dedicated to a specific subject. So  PsycINFO (a psychology database) and Sports Discus (Sports and Health Management) are not where you should be looking for Biblical information.  Use the "All Subjects" drop down menu on the "Databases" page to find the databases that relate to a certain subject area such as Bible and Theology.

NARROWING your search results:

  • Use more limiters in the tool bar. Limiters include items such as: publication date, peer-reviewed, scholarly, or full text.
  • It is better if you make your search terms specific. Instead of  "civil war"  try "American civil war" or "Civil war, United States." Choose terms that better describe the topic.

Books & Scholarly Journals

Books & Scholarly Journals: In-depth articles with more detailed information about the topic.

Where to start:  

Research GuidesA-Z Databases (listed by subject) and Library Search Box

Magazines & Newspapers

Magazines, Newspapers: contemporary overviews and public opinion regarding your topic at a given time.

Where to start:

Library Search BoxIssues and Controversies database and Lexis Uni database