Introduction: Research is Never a Waste of Time, But Always Make Good Use of Your Time.
It is natural to stand at the beginning of a research project and feel overwhelmed by the amount of published research that exists in databases, literature reviews, and reference pages. At the same time, each new research project brings the hope of discovering something new. Overwhelming though a project may be, starting at the foothills of a new thread of research is a great privilege, and is best approached as an opportunity to learn rather than a drudgery. As a researcher/writer, you have the chance to dive more deeply into less frequently encountered pools of knowledge.
Depending on the topic or scope of your research, it is also natural to spend many days and weeks - and in some cases months and years - searching. No matter how great or small the scope of research is, the serious researcher needs to reserve adequate time to perform a thorough survey of published articles. For an undergraduate course project, finding five or six sources might seem like plenty of material to review, but graduate-level writing projects typically involve up to 20 sources minimum.
Please note that the main point here is not to say that it is only the number of research articles matters most, but rather that having a broad spectrum of papers to choose from helps you choose your topic for at least the following two reasons: 1) a larger pool of sources provides you with a broader perspective of the topics within your scope of research and 2) along the way you will find many topics within your field that you DO NOT want to write about! So, one particularly effective way of viewing research is not finding the absolute minimum sources to "get by", but rather to find a variety of sources that you can use...like an artist uses negative space to "carve" shapes out of a dark background...to guide you toward topics that are more directly relevant to your topic.
The good news is that as you research you may find that some of your sources that were published in the same decade or so will cite and reference each other.
One of the joys and privileges of research is being able to follow your curiosity; if you are truly curious about your topic, and authentically driven to find out as much as you can, then even the articles you don't find interesting will be useful for a future project, and no energy will be wasted.
Introduction: Connecting Your Learning
Focus is important in any career field, but it is particularly important in information technology (IT). The more focused and specific your topic, the more information you can provide.
Consider how a computer organizes information using files, folders, and documents. In writing, you organize information in much the same way using sentences, paragraphs, and essays. Ultimately, a focused topic allows you to effectively manage information.
Focusing Your Learning
By the end of this lesson, you should be able to:
- Demonstrate the ability to narrow a topic for a specific purpose.
Narrowing a Topic
An effective writer should avoid choosing a broad topic. Narrowing a topic can seem challenging. The goal of narrowing a topic is to provide a focus to your essay.
Often you will find it necessary to begin with a broad topic, but from there, you must narrow your focus.
Consider the topic of technology.
Can you imagine writing a five-paragraph essay on the broad topic of technology?
- What would you include about personal computers, smartphones, tablets, or supercomputers?
- Would you write about technology in an educational setting, for personal usage, or for business applications?
- What would be your purpose? Are you writing to inform, persuade, or entertain?
Take a look at the following example of narrowing a topic for the assignment The History of Social Networking.
Steps to Narrowing a Topic
- The Three W Questions -- Ask the questions, who, what and why. You must first begin by thinking about your audience, purpose, and message. Who is your audience? What is the message? Why are you writing? The answers to these questions will largely determine your focus.
- Preliminary Research -- Pick a topic and Google it, surf the Web, or visit your library to do some preliminary research.
- Choose a Perspective -- Are you writing as a student, a parent, an expert, or a citizen of the world? Your perspective will change your message.
- Think Small -- Reduce big topics to essay size chunks. Take a look at the following example:
Now that you have watched the video on narrowing topics it is your turn to practice.
Complete the following practice activities. Check your answers to see how well you did.
Practice Activity 1: Identifying a Good Topic Sentence
Imagine that you have been asked to write a paragraph about plagiarism.
Which of these sentences would be an appropriate topic sentence? Which is too broad? Which is too narrow?
______ Plagiarism is a huge problem for community colleges.
______ Ralph bought a research paper on the Internet.
______ Advances in technology are making it easier to detect plagiarism.
Check Answers Here
Practice Activity 2: Identifying a Good Topic Sentence
Which of these would be an appropriate topic sentence? Which is too broad? Which is too narrow?
______ Cutting and pasting and then changing some words is one type of plagiarism.
______ Easy access to information on the Internet makes it difficult for students to know what actions are considered plagiarism.
______ Plagiarism is cheating.
Check Answers Here
For additional practice, complete the following activity:
Writing Topic Sentences
Now that you have learned about topic sentences and identified whether a topic is too broad or too narrow, give it a try. Take out a sheet of paper and a pen or pencil and write a new topic sentence about plagiarism.
Summarizing Your Learning
Whether it's a blog, an email, a set of instructions, or an essay, focused writing is critical. If you are focused, you are effective as a writer. If you are effective, you are understood, and that, ultimately, is every writer's goal.
Assessing Your Learning
Now it is time to show what you have learned. Complete the assignment below.
- Prewriting: Narrowing your Focus
The History of Social Networking
Personal Interest Direction
First Narrowing of Topic
The evolution of Facebook as a communication tool
Big Topic: Communications (This is much too broad.)
Think Small: Using cell phones effectively in a high school classroom
Too Broad: Plagiarism is a huge problem for community colleges.
Too Narrow: My cousin Ralph bought a research paper on the Internet.
Topic Sentence: Advances in technology are making it easier to detect plagiarism.
Too Broad - Plagiarism is cheating.
Too Narrow - Cutting and pasting and then changing some words is one type of plagiarism.
Topic Sentence - Easy access to information on the Internet makes it difficult for students to know what actions are considered plagiarism.