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UWS 50b: Public Health Writing with Data

Learn More about Your Topic

If you don't know much about your topic or are having trouble finding or understanding sources, you might need to do some background research before you continue searching for sources. This can also help you explore some options if you aren't sure what you want to write about.

The following databases are great places to start for background research.

Topic Development Handout

Can a librarian help me choose or narrow my topic?

Yes! We're happy to help you brainstorm and talk about how you might find a narrower focus. Email Lauren ( or Research Help ( to start the conversation.

How do I know if I need to narrow my topic?

Finding the right scope for a research topic can be tricky. Some folks start with a very narrow topic and can't find any related research. Other folks start with a broad topic and don't know how to focus their paper. 

How can you tell whether you need to adjust the scope of your topic? As you start to do some research, pay attention to what you find.

  • If you find way more relevant content than you could reasonably include in your paper, that's a sign that you need to narrow.
  • If you can't find anything that's relevant to your topic, it could be a sign that you need to broaden a bit. Although it could just be that you need to adjust your search terms. Try some synonyms and reach out to a librarian before you decide to adjust your topic!

How can I narrow my topic?

If your topic is too broad to be manageable for your current assignment, you'll want to choose a narrower aspect of your topic to focus on.

For example, "What effects do advertising have on children?" is probably too broad for a 10-page paper. Here are some ideas to help you get started -- some of these strategies will be more useful than others for different topics:

  • Get more specific
    • Example: What effect do junk food commercials have on children's eating habits?
  • Choose a specific population to focus on
    • Example: What effect does advertising have on young girls' toy preferences?
  • Choose a specific geographic focus
    • Example: Does advertising to children differ in different regions of the United States?
  • Choose a specific time focus
    • Example: How do children's advertisements today compare to those in the 1970's?