Choosing and Refining Topics

Deciding When a Topic is Too Broad

Kate Kiefer, English Professor
If a writer doesn't present details quickly enough, then the topic is usually too broad. If the reader can expect the paper to go in one direction, but it goes in another, the topic is usually too broad or not stated precisely enough. If I can ask six million questions about whether the writer will include this or that point, the topic is too broad. If I do a library search and turn up 200 listings (or an Internet search and discover 1,000 hits), the topic is too broad.

A topic is too broad to be workable when you find that you have too many different (but oftentimes remotely related) ideas about that topic. While you want to start the writing process with as many ideas as possible, you will want to narrow your focus at some point so that you aren't attempting to do too much in one essay.

Where essays requiring research are concerned, your topic is too broad if you are able to find thousands of sources when conducting a simple library or Internet search. For example, conducting a search on "foreign languages in Oregon" will provide you with policies, foreign language departments, and cultural issues (just to name a few). When this happens, you can try various narrowing strategies to determine what most interests you about your topic area and what relates to your own life most readily. For instance, if you plan to study abroad, focusing on the language you'll be speaking might be a way to narrow the scope of your original topic, "foreign languages in Oregon."

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