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Library resources and research tips for ENGL 101 students

Narrowing a Topic

Activity Instructions

To help develop a research question from a broad topic, use the quadrant below to guide a discussion. Start with a broad idea and gradually narrow down your focus by answering the following questions: 


  • What is your topic? What other issues/events are similar or related to your topic? 


  • Who is affected by your topic? Who is involved?



  • How does your topic impact society, culture, politics, economics? 


  • Why does this topic matter to you? Why should it matter to others?

Copy the activity above into your notebook or download the Brainstorming Activity Worksheet below.

Example Brainstorm

Let's say that our research topic is Climate Change


Hint: Write down anything and everything you can think of that has to do with your broad topic. Use terms from this quadrant to identify sub-topics and keywords for your search.

  • Global warming
  • Ocean acidification
  • Melting ice caps
  • Rising sea levels
  • Water scarcity
  • Hydrofracking


Hint: Stakeholders do not have to be individual people. They can be corporations, groups, communities, entities. Think outside the box!

  • Corporations
  • Governments
  • Environmental groups
  • Coastal communities
  • Scientists




Hint: This is the meat of your paper. Try and think of specific ways the topics identified in "What?" impact your stakeholders identified in "Who?"

  • Governments choose (or not) to set policies regulating environmental impact
  • Coastal communities rely on fishing and tourism for economic prosperity. Ocean acidification and rising sea levels could negatively impact these communities
  • Scientists raise awareness of global warming through their research



Hint: This is your hook. Why does this make a good ENGL 101 topic?


  • Climate change is a universal issue - it will impact everyone eventually
  • We will have to support coastal communities 
  • When scientists presenting research are dismissed or people do not believe them, it makes it difficult to take action

Here we have taken a the broad topic of climate change and broken it down into several different potential papers.

For example, a paper on the economic impact of ocean acidification on coastal fishing communities is a very different paper than researching the political impact of policy makers and pro-environmental legislation or public perception of scientific research about global warming.

All three of these potential topics are still about the broad topic of climate change, but here we have identified more narrow lines of inquiry that would make excellent ENGL 101 topics.

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