How to Narrow a Research Topic

I’ve just finished revamping the second module of the new online info lit class, “The Skillful Researcher,” a collaboration between the library and University College. The module is on “Narrowing Your Topic.” The students are writing a hypothetical research paper; they are doing all the research and creating an annotating bibliography as their final project. The second module is very important, since it’s where they pick their topic for research, and create a few potential research questions.

The students have already selected one of 5 broad topics we give them – education, food, human rights, music, or sports. For the assignment and discussion posting, they have to come up with 2-3 research questions that are appropriate for writing a hypothetical 8-12 page research paper.

Here are the techniques we’re teaching them:

1) Brainstorming. We have them complete a worksheet where they can talk about what they already know about a topic, what interests them about it, and what they would like to know more about.

2) Concept Mapping. I found this really cool YouTube video demonstrating how to do this:

3) Reviewing What’s Out There. We have them select an article from a list on various aspects of their broad topics. All the articles are from CQ Researcher, which is great for topic overviews and includes nice bibliographies. I created a Camtasia video on how to use CQ Researcher, and directions are presented in an Articulate template.

4) Defining Certain Aspects. A tutorial created using Articulate demonstrates how they can narrow a broad topic by looking at thing such as certain time frames, geographical locations, types of people, and/or aspects (sociological, economical, legal, etc.).

Since it’s only a one-credit class, and this module only lasts one week, we can’t teach much more than this. Another technique that I would like to teach (possibly if we create a “Skillful Researcher 2”) is how to review what’s out there by looking in library catalogs and databases. This gets a little more complicated but is a great skill for students to learn.

If anyone has other methods they teach students, I’d be interested to hear what they are! I’m hoping these 4 will be a good foundation for them, but any feedback would be appreciated as well.


2 thoughts on “How to Narrow a Research Topic

  1. It is important to claim your ideas and credit others with theirs. You started the article out with “I’ve,” yet there is no name on this article. Authorship is important and should be revealed to promote scholarship in publications.

    • Thanks for your feedback, Donald. All of the posts on this blog are authored by me, Rebecca Blakiston. You can find out more about me by simply going to the “About” section on this blog.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s