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Example Box for Choosing a Topic

My research assignment is:  Choose an illegal drug from a list.  Argue a position in relation to a current issue, problem, or solution associated with using this drug.

Based on the assignment, I understand that this is a persuasive paper.  I picked steroids as my drug to study.  I heard that some football players at another school got caught last year using steroids.  I'm curious as to how many high school football players take steroids and what it does to your body.

Example Box for Broadening/Narrowing a Topic

So far, my topic is: steroids.  This is too broad because when I looked online, I just got professional baseball articles, which is not my area of interest. I'll add football, so now my topic is steroids and football

Now I get reports about professional football and steroids.  This is interesting, but not exactly what I’m looking for.  I’ll add high school to my search.  Now my topic is steroid use in high school football.  After some searches for this topic, I find the results are not great.  There's nothing in the library catalog, and I need a book source according to my assignment sheet.   The Internet has mostly scandalous news reports without any statistics or background information.  I guess it's too narrow now.   When I take out football, I find more information that interests me.

If I had to choose, I'd rather do my report on steroids among high school students than steroid use in professional football.  So, my topic is now steroid use among high school students.

The Beginning Cycle

Take the time to think critically about your topic.   Consider carefully as you need to live with it for a long time.  It’s O.K. to explore and fumble around a bit.  I call this the “beginning cycle” because these steps are not usually linear.   As you define your topic, you will review background information that will cause you to accept or reject ideas.  These changes will alter the questions you develop.  Your keywords list will also change as your questions change.  You should finish all this work, however, before creating an essential question. 

How to Choose a Topic, Broaden, or Narrow a Topic

Answer the following questions: 

  • What do I already know about this subject?
  • What about my background or interests can I bring to this subject?
  • What do I want to learn more about in relation to this subject?

If you're stuck for ideas, ask a teacher, talk to a parent or a friend, use your textbook, browse your library, or go online.  Remember, during this stage, you are only coming up with ideas for a topic.  Unless you plan on using the information you find later, you don't need to cite it.


If your topic is too narrow, you won't find enough information.  Search online or in the library catalog.  The latter is important if you need a book source as a requirement.  Check your assignment sheet.  Students who choose topics such as a new athlete or an unusual musical group will have a topic that's too narrow. 

Broaden your topic by adding a similar topic and compare them, or think of a larger topic in the same area of interest.

If your topic is too broad, you will find too much information.  It will be difficult to sort through it all.  Your paper will be vague and lack focus. 

Narrow your topic by applying your own interest to the topic, focus on one aspect of the topic (geography, time period, a famous person, psychology, looking at one event, the impact of technology) or a combination of these.

Subject Guide

Jennifer Jourdain's picture
Jennifer Jourdain
Montachusett Regional Voc Tech School
1050 Westminster Street
Fitchburg, MA 01420
(978) 345-9200 x5125