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7.2: Narrowing Down a Topic

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    235758
    • Rachel Bell, Jim Bowsher, Eric Brenner, Serena Chu-Mraz, Liza Erpelo, Kathleen Feinblum, Nina Floro, Gwen Fuller, Chris Gibson, Katharine Harer, Cheryl Hertig, Lucia Lachmayr, Eve Lerman, Nancy Kaplan-Beigel, Nathan Jones, Garry Nicol, Janice Sapigao, Leigh Anne Shaw, Paula Silva, Jessica Silver-Sharp, Mine Suer, Mike Urquidez, Rob Williams, Karen Wong, Susan Zoughbie, Leigh Anne Shaw, Paula Silva, Jessica Silver-Sharp, Mine Suer, Mike Urquidez, Rob Williams, Karen Wong, and Susan Zoughbie
    • Skyline College

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    Before creating a thesis, you want to focus on narrowing down your topic. Typical undergraduate academic papers range from 2 to 20 pages. You generally won’t be writing book length papers (150 pages plus), so you don’t want to begin with topics that would require the length of a book to investigate and prove like “the worldwide drug trade” or “racism in America.” You want to use focus strategies to help you narrow down to a manageable topic you can effectively and concretely prove in a shorter paper. You can use these strategies individually or combined.

    Narrow down the "too broad" topic using each focus strategy:
    Narrow down the "too broad" topic using each focus strategy
    Focus Strategy Narrowing the topic Narrow down the “too broad” topic using each focus strategy:

    Time

    Time clock image

    Too broad: “In the past…”; “Since the dawn
    of time…”; “In the beginning of society…”

    In the early 14th century? In the late 1960s? Summer of 1985? Since 1990? This year?
    10 years from now?
    Topic that is too broad:
    The enslavement of people since Roman times

    Narrow the topic (by time):

    Place

    World place image

    Too broad: “In the world today…”; “In the United States, all citizens...”; “People who live in Africa…”; “In the Middle-East, everyone…”

    Can the place be narrowed to a country? A state? A town? A neighborhood?
    Topic that is too broad:
    Abuse of slaves in the United States

    Narrow the topic (by place):

    Population

    People holding hands image

    Too broad: “All Latinos…”; “Men and women in Asia…”; “Every English-speaker…”; “All doctors…”; “Older people always…”

    Which population should be the focus and why? Can you make an accurate statement about the entire group?
    Topic that is too broad:
    Slaves who were discontent

    Narrow the topic (by population):

    Viewpoint

    Magnifying glass viewpoint image

    Too broad: “The Holocaust was bad.”; “Men are violent.”; “We need to get rid of poverty”; “Racism hurts people.”; “People shouldn’t do things that are bad for them.”

    Can you break your topic down into smaller parts? What aspect of your topic is most interesting to you? What particular aspect of your topic is the most important or has the largest impact? Who exactly is affected?
    Topic that is too broad:
    Slavery was harmful.

    Narrow the topic (by viewpoint):
    Answer

    Narrow down the “too broad” topic using each focus strategy:

    TIME:
    Topic that is too broad:
    The enslavement of people since Roman times.
    Narrow the topic (by time): Slavery during the era of Frederick Douglass during the early 1800s

    PLACE:
    Topic that is too broad: Abuse of slaves in the United States.
    Narrow the topic (by place): The abuse of house slaves in Maryland, where Douglass lived.

    POPULATION:
    Topic that is too broad: Slaves who were discontent
    Narrow the topic (by population): Slaves, like Douglass, who rebelled against unjust laws.

    VIEWPOINT:
    Topic that is too broad: Slavery was harmful.
    Narrow the topic (by viewpoint): Slavery demoralized human beings and destroyed families.

    Practice: EVALUATING A THESIS USING A CONTINUUM LINE

    Applying the advice on narrowing a topic in regard to time, place, population and viewpoint, you can evaluate thesis statements using a continuum line. Some will be too narrow, some too broad, but your goal as a writer is to create a thesis that is just right.

    Thesis Continuum Line

    TOO NARROW JUST RIGHT TOO BROAD

    Thesis Continuum Arrow

    Evaluate the following thesis statements and decide where they fall on the continuum line. Explain your reasoning.

    1. Even though most people believe school has influenced them or taught them the most, it was my father, not school, that taught me the value of reading and writing.
    2. Literacy is the key to success, and you must be literate to be successful in today’s world.
    3. The only way to achieve literacy is by learning the five paragraph essay.
    4. The North and South fought the Civil War for many reasons, some were the same and some different.
    5. While both sides fought the Civil War over the issue of slavery, the North fought for moral reasons while the South fought to preserve its own institutions.
    6. The main argument of the Civil War was whether individual states had a right to self-govern independent of federal law.
    7. Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn is a great American novel.
    8. Twain's Huckleberry Finn suggests that to find the true expression of American democratic ideals, one must leave "civilized" society in order to find one’s basic humanity.
    9. Twain’s Huckleberry Finn shows that Huck grew when he realized people missed him when he was presumed dead.
    Answer
    1. Even though most people believe school has influenced them or taught them the most, it was my father, not school, that taught me the value of reading and writing. JUST RIGHT
    2. Literacy is the key to success, and you must be literate to be successful in today’s world. TOO BROAD
    3. The only way to achieve literacy is by learning the five-paragraph essay. TOO NARROW
    4. The North and South fought the Civil War for many reasons, some were the same and some different. TOO BROAD
    5. While both sides fought the Civil War over the issue of slavery, the North fought for moral reasons while the South fought to preserve its own institutions. JUST RIGHT
    6. The main argument of the Civil War was whether individual states had a right to self-govern independent of federal law. TOO NARROW
    7. Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn is a great American novel. TOO BROAD
    8. Twain's Huckleberry Finn suggests that to find the true expression of American democratic ideals, one must leave "civilized" society in order to find one’s basic humanity. JUST RIGHT
    9. Twain’s Huckleberry Finn shows that Huck grew when he realized people missed him when he was presumed dead. TOO NARROW