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ENG 101: English Composition

The official library guide for English Composition classes at Minnesota State Mankato

Start Here: Best Library Resources for English Composition Assignments

This guide contains information to help you do research for English Composition assignments.

How to Narrow your Topic

Sometimes, when you start researching, you don't know exactly what you're looking for. That's okay! You can start with a broad topic and narrow it to something more specific for your research project. Below are a couple ideas and tools to help you do so. 

How to Narrow: 

The easiest way to narrow your topic is to start with the broader umbrella category. Let's say you want to talk about nutrition. If you just started by putting 'nutrition' in the search bar, however, you'd quickly be overwhelmed by millions of entries.
So we narrow our topic. Start thinking of sub topics or pieces of your topic.  By getting more specific right away, it will help weed out a lot of extra sources and you can focus in on a more specific topic. 
You could try narrowing your topic by adding any of these aspects to your research:

  • by Time period (Nutrition in the Victorian era? After 1990?)
  • by Location - think state, region, or area (Nutrition in the U.S.? Nutrition in rural areas? Nutrition in schools?)
  • by Population. Consider culture, ethnicity, gender or age. (Nutrition and women? Nutrition and young adults?)
  • by Discipline (History of nutrition? Nutrition regulations? Marketing nutritional products?)
  • by Aspect (Nutrition and vegetarianism? Nutrition and meat? Nutrition and allergies?)
  • by Relationship. This means comparing or contrasting your topic with another. Look for similarities and differences (Marketing nutrition in the United States vs. another country? Nutrition in K-12 schools vs. nutrition at colleges and universities?)

Paying attention to these factors will help you focus on simply an aspect of your topic. Then you will have successfully narrowed your topic and your research to something much more manageable. 

Below you'll find a worksheet to help you narrow your own topic and a tutorial for what narrowing a topic during the research process might look like. 

Narrowing Topic Worksheet

Topic too narrow?

Sometimes you will do such a good job narrowing your topic you might actually end up with to few resources. That's alright! Then you just need to 'narrow' your topic but in reverse! You need to broaden your topic and search parameters.

  • First, try out different words for your topic. Instead of "Kids" try "children." Instead of "Minneapolis" try "Twin Cities."
  • If you still aren't finding enough sources, try broadening your concept a little. If you're looking into a town, try looking at the state instead. If you're looking at a specific age, broaden it to an age range like "teenagers" or "elderly."
  • If all else fails you can always combine/compare information. You have a couple sources on teens in the UK using guns, you could take that info and compare it to teens in the US using guns, or adults in the UK using guns. Combining such very narrow topics will help you get enough research.

And, as always, if you still can't get enough evidence? Come see a librarian!

Resources to Help You Develop a Topic

Use these databases below to browse for possible topics, or to start gathering information on a topic.

Find Sources Using MavScholar

Use the MavScholar search box below to find most, but not all, library items available at Minnesota State Mankato.

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