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Research Strategies & Tips: Narrow or Broaden Your Topic

This guide provides information on identifying topics, developing search statements, finding and evaluating sources, and using information ethically.

Too many results?

When your search retrieves too many results, focus or narrow your search by adding another key concept to your search statement using AND.

Example: If the search statement television and violence and children retrieves too many items and your hypothesis is that viewing violence on television causes children to be more aggressive, a relevant additional concept to add might be aggression.

Search statement: television and violence and children and aggression

Redirecting your topic can also focus and narrow your search results. As you are researching your topic, you may find new, interesting ideas and topics that you had not thought of before. You may want to redirect your research to a new focus based on what you have found.

Example: In your research on television and violence and children, you may find interesting articles that focus on video games, and you may decide to redirect your research to focus there.

Search statement: video games and violence and children

Example 2, in the center section, shows another example of redirecting your research focus.

Examples

Example 1: Options for Search Statements

  • Research question: Do fashion trends reflect the state of the economy?
  • Key concepts: fashion, economy, history
  • Synonyms and alternate terms: style, fashionable, economics

Here are some search statements that might be developed for the example above.

(fashion* or style) and econom*

fashion* and history and econom*

(fashion* or style) and history and econom*

Quiz: Which of the search statements above is likely to retrieve the fewest items? the most items?
(Answers below.)

Example 2: Refocusing a Topic

  • Research question: How does Chicago's urban architecture represent the best of many different styles and periods?
  • Key concepts: Chicago, architecture, urban
  • Synonyms or alternate terms: buildings, city

Here are some search statements that might be developed for the example above.

Chicago and urban architecture

(Chicago or city or urban) and (architecture or building*)

If you were researching this topic, you would discover the names of several architects and architectural styles which you might want to focus on as key concepts in your search statements. You might develop search statements such as these:

Chicago and (Frank Lloyd Wright or Mies van der Rohe)

Chicago and skyscraper

 

Quiz answers:
fewest items - fashion* and history and econom*
most items - (fashion* or style) and econom*

Too few results?

If your search retrieves too few results, broaden your focus. One approach: think about dropping one of the key concepts from the search statement.

Example: If you don't find enough searching for television and violence and children, try searching just for the two primary concepts of your research focus: television and children.

Search statement: television and children

Another approach when you find too few results would be to look for synonyms and alternate terms for some of your key concepts.

Example: Consider using movies or music as alternate terms for television since all three are media.

Search statement: (television or movies or music) and violence and children

From UCLA: How to Narrow or Broaden Your Topic

For more help when your research finds too many or too few results, visit this UCLA Library web page:

How to Narrow or Broaden Your Topic