D. Teach Topic Narrowing

1. Problem:

Often, students come up with topics that are much too broad to address in a typical undergraduate research paper. In addition, they do not know how to focus their topics effectively.

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



2. Expected Learning Outcomes:

After going through a group exercise or through Road to Research lessons and exercises, all students will utilize limiters to write a focused topic sentence or argument for a research paper.


3. Methods:

Exercise (in-class -- 15 minutes)

This exercise is in 2 parts with a 3d optional part.

Part 1: Model the Process

  1. Display a broad topic or write it on a board or flipchart--e.g., IMMIGRATION
  2. Instructor: "Am I thinking of immigration from the beginning of time to the present? No, I'm going to limit my topic to a particular time period."
  3. Write on the board: TIME: 1940s & 1950s
  4. Instructor: "This is one of four limiters you can place on a topic in order to focus it."
  5. Instructor: "Am I thinking of immigration worldwide, or in a particular area? This is the second kind of limit you can use for a topic."
  6. Write: PLACE: California
  7. Instructor: "Now, am I thinking of everyone in California in the 1940s & 1950s, or some specific person or group? This is the 3d limiter."
  8. Write: PERSON/GROUP: Braceros
  9. Instructor: "Finally, I can add one more limiter--an aspect or event."
  10. Write: ASPECT/EVENT: living conditions
  11. Instructor: "Now I've used all 4 limiters and have come up with the following topic/argument: 'Poor living conditions for Braceros did not improve over the 10-year period during which they worked in California, from the 1940s to the 1950s.'"
  12. Instructor: "I'm not sure if this is a good researchable topic, but I'm going to try it. If I get too few results, I may eliminate or broaden one of the limiters. If I get too many, I may narrow a limiter, like picking a shorter date range, or just a single year."

Part 2: Small Group Process

  1. Get the learners into small groups
  2. Give all of the groups the same broad topic--e.g., DRUG LAWS or GENDER ROLE
  3. Ask them to take 5 minutes to work together to identify limiters on the topic and to come up with a topic sentence or argument
  4. Ask each group to report back by listing their limiters and reading their topic sentence or argument

Part 3: Individual Followup Homework (Optional)

  1. Give each learner a worksheet divided into 2 columns with space at the top for their names and a tentative topic for each column.
  2. Ask them to write down limiters for each topics, and a topic sentence or argument utilizing those limiters.
  3. Review the two columns, select the one that seems most researchable and return the worksheet with that topic circled and tips for getting started with their research.

Additional option--Google Related Searches:

  1. Do a Google search for a broad topic, e.g., HYBRID CARS
  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.     

Online Tutorial

Road to Research:

4. Assessment:

"Road to Research: Starting Points":

  • Exercise 2
  • Self-assessment
    • Quiz: Guest
    • Or, pull down the Starting Points menu, click on "Quiz: Login (UCLA only)"

    Note: While still available, "Road to Research" has not been maintained by the UCLA Library since Summer 2011, and may be out of date. It is used here as an example.

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