Once you’ve selected a topic that feels right, you need to do yourself a favor: avoid becoming hopelessly lost at the beginning.

One way to avoid this pitfall is to narrow or reduce the topic so that it becomes more and more yours. Huge topics like “Eating Disorders,” “Social Networking,” or “The Environment” need to be limited – not to add to your workload but to actually help you lessen the size of things you have to tackle.

The more distinctive your way into the topic is, the less chance you have of falling victim to the sinking feeling that you have nothing new to say – that everything about your topic has already been written about. All writers, research writers or not, have all been intimidated by the burden of the past. The burden becomes heavier in research writing when we choose a topic that is too general. That’s not to say you shouldn’t write about eating disorders, social networking, or capital punishment; however, you will have much more room to maintain your voice, your position, and your sanity with less of a garden to weed or with less water in your pool to keep your balance.

Below you will find some research activities to practice this narrowing, reducing, or limiting process.

Let’s start by using the topic “Eating Disorders.” First we’ll check out what Brookdale’s Library has by way of books, reference works, videos, and tapes.

Use the link to do a subject search on eating disorders: Subject Search

Under our topic “eating disorders” you should have found twenty entries. If you clicked “Eating Disorders” (the second entry) you found books and video recordings on types of eating disorders (anorexia and bulimia), eating habits, overeating as an American obsession, and understanding eating disorders; these topics are more limited and therefore more manageable and less intimidating. More important though is that just by entering a topic of interest, plenty of ideas for narrowing your topic will turn up.

In the same search results, by taking a look below our “eating disorders” topic to other entries, you will find other ideas for limiting your topic: by looking at solutions (“treatment”), targeting kinds of people (“children,” “women,” adolescence”), aspects (psychological, social), and places (Australia).

Not only are these narrower topics more manageable, but they are more interesting. The more specific, the more concrete. The words “eating disorders” may conjure up pictures, but they’re vague’ link these words to “children” or “social aspects” and the pictures becomes more vivid, more engaging.

Okay, let’s try the topic “social networking” using Brookdale Library’s access to the Academic Search Premier database to find articles. Click “Databases/Articles by Topic” on the Library’s homepage.  Once you see the list, click “Academic Search Premier” (the first choice listed) and then put “Social Networking” into the search box.

You should be stunned to see that there over 5,800 articles on this topic (of course millions would be worse). If this were your topic, however, you would have your work cut out for you (5,800+ articles… where do I begin?). Yet, if you look closer at the titles and summaries of even just the first twenty citations you may begin to see points of interest that are more limited. Narrower topics like “the art of social networking,” “the student experience,” “educational use,” “political campaigns,” and “profilers” social connectedness” are more controllable and even juicier.

Not convinced? Click Academic Search Premier again and type in the words “the art of social networking” this time and see what happens.

Yes, 27 citations. By limiting your topic you’ve reduced your load from 5,800+ to 27. There is much more room and time now for your ideas to survive, take hold, and develop. It won’t always be this easy, but finding ways to limit the topic always has rewards.

One more step . . . let’s try “The Environment using Google.

2,620,000,000 hits! You get the idea?

Before using a search engine, especially on the Internet, the keywords need to be specific to be controllable. If you think your topic is still too general, try the steps above.

Give yourself a chance to generate ideas, find a “way in,” and “be onto something” you can call your own.