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Library Research Skills for College Students: Step-by-Step

A step-by-step in-depth start to finish guide through the research process.

Other Perspectives in the Reseach Process

This video is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States license.

How to Narrow Your Topic

If your topic is too broad or vague, you will find too much information and will need to narrow the focus.

Example: "I am thinking of doing a paper on health.”

Define your topic by asking the following questions:

  • When you think of this broad topic, what specific issues interest you – careers in health care, specific mental disorders or diseases, the state of health care in the United States? All of these subtopics are facets of the much broader topic – health.
  • What aspects of your topic interest you: business, history, legal, physical, psychological, social etc.?
  • What time period do you want to cover?
  • Do you want to focus on a geographic region or population?
  • What kind of information do you need? (e.g., a brief summary or a lengthy explanation; periodical articles or books; statistics)

Sample Topic Narrowing Chart: 

General topic:


Facets of topic:

autism, cancer, depression, diabetes, eating disorders, health care


business, history, legal, physical, psychological, social

Time span:

1990s; current


African Americans, Hispanics, men, women, teenagers, United States

Narrowed Research Question:

Does the media's portrayal of the ideal female body contribute to eating disorders in women?

Adapted from UCLA Library


Narrowing Your Topic with Research Questions

question iconYour research project is an opportunity to ask questions or find answers that you didn't know before. Asking and answering research questions can help you fully explore your topic and uncover the right kind of information. 


Examples of research questions:

Introductory questions...

  • What is ____________?
  • Why is ____________ an important issue?
  • What background information is necessary for me to understand ____________?

Analytical questions...

  • What are the causes of ____________?
  • What are the effects of ____________?
  • What is being done about ____________?

Concluding questions...

  • What conclusions can I draw about ____________ based on what I read?
  • What do I think should be done about ____________?

See the links below to learn more about how creating good research questions will help you create a great assignment!

If You Can't Find Enough Information - Broaden Your Topic

confused face icon


Your topic may be too narrow, if you have trouble finding information.



  • If your topic is very specific or new, it will be difficult to find enough information to write your paper.
  • Example: “I am thinking of doing a paper on how fishing in the James River in Richmond, VA has affected the smallmouth bass population.”

This topic as stated is seeking to answer a question for which there may be no answer yet – there may be no or very little research or studies that have been conducted on this topic.

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Stay Broad and General at the Decision-Making State


  • Instead of researching a specific species of fish, go broader ---  freshwater fish or saltwater fish.
  • Instead of Richmond, VA go wider --  United States.
  • Identify the people or groups involved wit this topic such as fishermen or fish & wildlife government departments.
  • Brainstorm for other issues related to this topic such as fishery management, fishery regulations, fishing licenses, fish stocking, etc.

Sample Topic Broadening Chart: 

Specific topic:

How has fishing in the James River in Richmond, VA affected the smallmouth bass population?

Alternate Focus:

freshwater fish, saltwater fish

Alternate Place:

Southeastern United States, United States, rivers, oceans

Brainstorm Focus on Person or Group:

fishermen, fish & wildlife government departments

Brainstorm Focus on Event or Aspect:

fishery management, fishery regulations, fishing licenses, fish stocking

Broadened Research Question:

How has government fishing regulations in the United States affected the freshwater fish population

Adapted from UCLA Library

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