Skip to main content

SOCY 122: Introduction to Academic Library Research

Course guide library research tutorial

Choosing Your Topic

Narrowing a Topic that is too Broad

You'll want to be sure that you select a topic that has a clear focus. Topics like social movements or homelessness or surveillance are much too broad in themselves, so you will need to narrow the focus.

Some common ways to narrow a topic that is too broad:

  • by time period (is there a specific time period you would like to cover?)
  • by geographic location
  • by population group
  • or by asking, is there a particular aspect of this topic that interests you? For example, public policy implications, historical influence, socio-political aspects, a particular problem or issue within the topic?

Expanding a Topic that is too Narrow

It is also possible to choose a topic that is too narrow, for which there may not be enough information published. In my experience, topics that are particularly difficult to research include:

  • Local/regional issues: There may not be scholarly research conducted on issues within a limited geographic area. Try to find an issue that has relevance to a wider audience or that has been discussed nationally or internationally. Is there a way to think more broadly about the topic?
  • Current events: It takes months or even years for scholarly books and journal articles to be published about an event. Try to find an event that has been in the news for a longer period of time, or find ways to relate a current event to other issues that have been written about more extensively.
  • Popular topics: Topics about popular television shows or new trends, for instance, appeal to a more general audience and are mostly covered in popular magazines and articles. Try to think about related issues or broader trends in these areas.

Sociological Frame of Reference

If the explanation you develop for your particular topic resides inside the person (biology, DNA, self esteem, anxiety, depression, aggression, chemical imbalance or any number of other internal processes of humans) then you are not using a sociological or social-psychological frame of reference. If the explanation you develop for your topic resides within the social structure (the economy, the workplace, the education system, the political structure or processes, culture, gender relations, race relations, etc.) then you are thinking in terms of a sociological frame of reference.

Your TA can talk with you about whether your topic idea is too narrow or too broad. Topics that take you into the literature produced by psychologists have been purposely avoided. The TAs have been instructed not to approve topics of the following nature: psychology, medical science, human/child development, self esteem, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, body image, mental health issues such as ADD or learning disabilities.

Choosing Your Topic is Research

Picking Your Topic is Research

This short video, produced by NCSU Libraries, correctly points out that picking your topic is intertwined with finding and reading sources. When you first select a topic, it is just an idea that you test with some exploratory research. Let the published research help guide you in adjusting (narrowing or broadening) the scope of your topic.