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ENGL 101 - Markossian - Spring 2024: Narrowing a Topic


Get Started by Doing Some Background Reading

Start by Doing Background Reading:
First, you need to do background reading. Doing so at the beginning of your research helps you understand your topic right from the start. You will be able to put your topic in context and create research questions that drive your search for information. In addition, when you continue researching you will know if what you find is relevant and useful.

You need to begin understanding your topic early in order to know:

  1. What information you need to find
  2. Whether or not what you are finding is relevant
  3. What search terms will lead to successful searches
  4. What information is reliable

You do not have to read a lot of books to get this valuable background information. In addition to reference books that you'll find in the library OneSearch, you can use articles and book chapters from the library's online databases of articles and reference e-books.  Listed to the right are selected background resources.

Sources for Background Reading

Conduct your pre-research by using some general and discipline-specific reference sources:


  1. Reference books; look at the table of contents and index for ideas
  2. General encyclopedias such as World Book Encyclopedia (in the Library) to locate a broad topic
  3. General e-books such as Encyclopedia Britannica to locate a broad topic
  4. Gale Virtual Reference Library for subject encyclopedias and reference books online
  5. Subject (specialized) encyclopedias from the Library - Reference Books area - Use the catalog to locate
  6. Subject Guides from the Rio Hondo College Library Website
  7. Hot topics from the Rio Hondo College Library Subject Guides page
  8. Lists of Topics from the Rio Hondo College Website

Begin Topic Development

Develop a general or broad topic from your background reading

From your general topic and readings you can begin to develop a refined topic that will developed into a thesis statement or research question.

If your topic is too broad begin to narrow/refine it by adding an aspect of the topic, a time period, limit it to a location/geography, population, etc.


Below is an example of narrowing the topic of Prisons:

Narrow by Examples
aspects of the topic

law and legislation
moral and ethical aspects

time period

20th century
21st century
2000-2010 (a range of years)


United States (or another country)
Los Angeles


Teens or Juveniles
Hispanic Americans

Arrive at a researchable thesis or research question

Given your assigned question, how can you arrive at a researchable thesis statement that you can discuss in a well-argued paper?

  • What is the minimum number of pages expected for the assignment?
  • Is your thesis statement too broad?  Too narrow?

Identify keywords and concepts

Keywords and concepts describe the main idea(s) of your topic and enable you to focus your research.

  • Based on your readings, course syllabus, assigned texts, jot down the terms that you identify as the keywords and main concepts.
  • Use background information from reference sources such as the Gale Virtual Reference Library, Reference books, and subject (specialized) encyclopedias to find additional keywords and synonyms. See the list on the right column of this page.
  • Group the keywords by concept.
  • Identify synonyms of your keywords (e.g., synonyms for "teenagers" are adolescents, youths, and children).

Topic:  Does Education reduce recidivism in Prisons?







Related Terms:


Related Terms:

Repeat offenders

Related Terms: