Managing a Topic
In some cases, your topic and questions may be too broad to be handled successfully within the length limits of a written assignment. You will need a strategy for narrowing the focus to something more manageable.
On the other hand, some topics and questions may prove too narrow and focused for an assignment, and you need to consider ways to broaden the topic.
It is not always easy to determine if a topic is too broad or too narrow for a specific assignment. Consult with your instructor (or Writing Support if you are unsure).
Here are some common strategies for narrowing or broadening topics.
A great video on Narrowing your Topic from the University of Victoria Libraries. Closed Captioned.
When: Time period
Focusing on a specific time period is a useful strategy for narrowing some topics.
1. Development of Canada’s penitentiary system
- Prior to 1867
- In the 1960s
- Since 2001
2. Issues in Children’s Health (Pediatric Nursing)
- Birth to 12 months
- Years 1-5
- Years 6-12
For a topic with time constraints that are too narrow, you might consider broadening the time period.
Where: Geographic region/country
Similar to considering a specific time period, a geographic focus can help narrow a topic
1. Return to Work programs
- in Canada
or even narrower
- in Ontario
2. Harm reduction drug strategies for youth
- in Toronto
- in Canadian urban centers.
Why: Disciplinary perspectives
You could consider employing a particular disciplinary perspective or theory. Keep in mind the themes of the course for which you are writing the assignment and the perspectives or theoretical approaches addressed in class.
Scholars from different disciplines will often approach the same issue quite differently. Consider the issue “income inequality.” Some possible topics that may follow from different disciplinary perspectives include:
- Economics: relationship between income distribution and economic growth
- Social Work: anti-oppression practice and income inequality
- Nursing: impact of income inequality and population health
Even within the same discipline, scholars may approach issues using different theoretical perspectives.
For example, a literary scholar may use a Marxist, structuralist or a postmodern lens to analyze a text. A political scientist may interpret an issue through a realist or constructivist lens.
What: Aspects of a particular topic
Most issues/topics have several aspects. To develop a manageable topic, consider narrowing to one or two specific aspects. Below are examples for particular issues:
1. Post-secondary Education (can be narrowed to…)
- Pedagogical approaches
- Employment opportunities for graduates
- Administrative organization of universities
2. Parliamentary Democracy in Canada (can be narrowed to…)
- House of Commons
- Powers reserved by the executive
- First-past-the-post system
You may consider including additional aspects of an issue in order to broaden your topic.
Who: Key groups, thinkers, and institutions
For a particular issue, you may want to limit your consideration to a small number of key groups, thinkers or institutions, and their role or influence on a particular issue. The following examples of “who” can help narrow a particular issue into a more workable topic:
1. Delivery of aid for developing countries:
- Influence of International Monetary Fund
- Role of Doctors without Borders
- Impact on women
2. Reform of Toronto Community Housing
- Role of Municipal and Provincial Government
- Impact on Seniors, Residents with Disabilities etc.,
To broaden the topic, consider the roles played by multiple institutions and individuals. How might these relate to one another or conflict?
The process of narrowing and broadening is often recursive. That is, you may need to revisit your topic and driving questions several times during your research, reading and writing.