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University of Portland Clark Library

CST 101: Introduction to Communication Studies: Finding a Topic That's Just Right

Finding Too Much?

Finding too much information? Your topic might be too big. To make it narrower:

  • First, consider what you know.
  • Reading an encyclopedia article or browsing a handbook can give you ideas on areas to explore inside your topic.
  • Within an article database such as Communication Source, the Subject: Thesaurus Terms list will show you all of the subjects covered by your search results. This can be another way to get ideas on areas to explore.
  • Next, consider describing the who, what, when and where of your topic.
    • “Who” do you want to talk about (e.g. Women, college students, Asian-Americans)?
    • “What” aspect of the topic interests you (e.g. legal, historical, ethical)?
    • “When” in history are you interested (e.g. 18th century, 1981-1985, contemporary)?
    • “Where”, or what geographical region are you curious about (e.g. Oregon, Northwest, United States, Middle East)?

AskUs! (http://library.up.edu/chat) for help narrowing your topic.

Not Finding Enough?

Not finding enough information? Your topic might be too narrow. To make it broader:

  • One easy way to do this is by broadening the components of your topic. For example, instead of "conflict between college-age housemates about housework," look for
    • conflict between college-age housemates (omit the reason for the conflict)
    • conflict between housemates (omit both the reason and the age)
  • Think about the over arching aspects of your topic, such as the issues or key players.
  • Can you generalize the issue, or find related issues or industries?

Another way to find more information is to expand your searches related to your topic.

  • What are some synonyms to the terms you were already using? e.g.
    • (housemates OR roommates) AND conflict
  • Are there any databases or indexes you haven't searched in yet?
  • Keep in mind, some topics are so new (especially current events), you may not be able to find many journal articles, so you will need to use newspapers or periodicals. Look for journal articles on a related topic.

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