E. Teach Topic Broadening

1. Problem:

Sometimes students select very narrowly focused research topics--e.g., "The impact of 'movie palaces' on audiences and therefore, on the types of movies produced in the 1920s."

If their topics are too narrow, particularly geographically (e.g., UCLA), they may find it difficult to identify useful research materials.

See Expected Learning Outcomes (below) and Methods (to the right) for help with this problem.

2. Expected Learning Outcomes:

After participating in a group exercise, or by using the links to the right, all students will come up with a broadened topic sentence or argument for a research paper by identifying synonyms and other words related to their topic words.

3. Methods:

Exercise: (In-class -- 5-10 minutes)


  1. Display this topic/argument: "Hispanic women 85 and older in L.A. need protection from abuse in nusing homes."
  2. Instructor: "Mary can't find enough information on her topic. Let's help her. Call out the most important words in this topic."
  3. Wait for learners to respond.
  4. Display a list of the key words in the topic.
  5. Instructor: "What are some broader, narrower or related words Mary could use to search for more information on this topic?"
  6. Write 3-4 responses on the board.
  7. Instructor: "Here are some words I came up with..".
  8. Display: Latin*, Chican*; Senior Citizen*, Elderly; Los Angeles, California; Neglect, Violen*; Long-Term Care
  9. Instructor: "Why did I put asterisks at the ends of some of these words?"
  10. Wait for responses.
  11. Instructor: "The asterisk is a 'truncation' symbol or wildcard used by many databases. It saves you time and broadens your search by telling the system to look for everything that starts with the characters that precede it. So, Chican* will find Chicano, Chicanos, Chicana, Chicanas."
  12. Ask learners to write down their tentative research topics and circle the keywords.
  13. Ask learners to work with a partner and help each other come up with 1 or 2 broader, narrower or related words for each keyword.
  14. Tell the learners to save their work for database searching. 

Additional option--Google Related Searches:

  1. Do a Google search for a broad topic, e.g., DISABLED IRAQ WAR VETERANS LOS ANGELES
  2. In the left column, under "More results," click on Related Searches.
  3. Wait to see a display of additional search words.
  4. Suggest that learners follow this process to brainstorm related words and phrases that can be used for topic limiting and for information searching.         


4. Assessment:

"Road to Research: Starting Points: Topics"

Exercise 2  

Note: Links above are to archived copies of pages in the Internet Archive, as the "Road to Research" is temporarily unavailable as of 16 Sep 2015 due to revision work on the UCLA Social Sciences Computing Center's website.

 In addition, this tutorial has not been maintained by the UCLA Library since Summer 2011, and some portions may be out of date. It is used here as an example.