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Information Skills - Narrowing Your Topic

Help! My Instructor Said My Topic Isn't Focused!

Use the Five W's to Focus Your Idea

What - This is your topic.  Your passion!  Do you have a memory or interest that inspires you?  Think about how you could use this situation for a writing assignment.

A U.S. Navy nurse provides a comforting touch and kind word to a wounded man on board the hospital ship Repose off Vietnam, 1967.Who - Narrow by audience. Be more specific with age, race, gender, nationality, etc.  Do some people involved with your topic inspire or repulse you?  Try looking at the topic from their perspective.

Examples: Instead of just "Vietnam War," try

Experiences of Female Army Nurses in the Vietnam War

Experience of African American enlisted servicemen in the Vietnam War

Vietnam War Protestors and Conscientious Objectors



Where - Narrow by location. Focusing on the topic within a defined region can help avoid information overload.  This could be a neighborhood, a city, a state, a region, a country, etc.

Example: Instead of just "potato farming" try:

  • potato farming in the desert regions
  • potato farming in Elmore County, Idaho
  • potato farming on Mars
  • potato farming in countries with emerging economies



When - Narrow by time. Try limiting a larger topic into a smaller time frame.

Example:  Instead of just "feminism" try:

feminism during the 1920's

feminism during WWII

feminism in the modern United States




Why - Narrow by circumstance or method. Does your topic have circumstantial shades of grey that make it hard to define?  Try focusing on a single circumstance or method.

Example: Instead of just "medicinal marijuana" try,

  • medicinal marijuana use for young adults with traumatic brain injury
  • medicinal marijuana use for elderly cancer patients