Choosing and Narrowing a Topic
by Writing Center Staff
In graduate school, your professor frequently gives you only a very general topic (often from the course title).
Example: Environmental Policy
You must narrow this topic to something manageable within the scope of a seminar paper. If necessary, clarify the purpose of your paper with your professor. The following approaches may be helpful in choosing and narrowing your topic:
- Consider your own course-related interests. Use freewriting to explore your interests.
- Consider topics from the syllabus and lectures. Recall questions that were asked in class. (Unanswered questions provide particularly fertile ground for exploration.)
- Use journalistic questions.
Examples: What are important issues in environmental policy? Who plays significant roles in policy making? Where are the most innovative policies being developed?
- Do exploratory reading. Review general sources.
Examples: Encyclopedias, Dictionary of American Biography, Corpus Juris Secondum, text books, etc.
- Review recent journals in your field.
Examples: American Political Science Review, Econometrica, Policy Studies Journal, Educational Review, American Historical Review, Publications of the Modern Language Association (PMLA), Feminist Studies
- Talk with professor, classmates, Writing Center Consultants.
- Develop a research question to focus your efforts.
Example: Are pollution credits an effective policy for reducing air pollution in the L.A. Basin?