Focusing Your Topic

Topic Selection

If you need help selecting your topic:

  • Think about what interests you in the course.
  • Look through course readings for ideas.
  • Discuss ideas with your instructor.
  • Look through specialized encyclopedias in the subject area ( HOWLcat keyword search for encyclopedias will list many of our subject encyclopedias)

For topics related to current social issues:


  1. Get background information
    • Use a general or subject specific encyclopedia
    • Do a preliminary search in HOWLcat, the library catalog for other books on the topic.
    • Do a preliminary search in some databases to determine aspects of the topic in the literature.
  2. Consider ways to narrow your focus. For example, for the topic abortion:
Narrow by Examples
aspects of the topic law and legislation
pro-choice movement
pro-life movement
moral and ethical aspects
religious aspects
psychological aspects
time period 19th century
since Roe v. Wade
geography United States
population teens
Hispanic Americans


  1. You may need to broaden your topic or search keywords, e.g. when searching for a subject encyclopedia, a statistical compilation or when choosing a database. Information on abortion might be found in resources related to women, to health or medicine, to ethics or to law