Subject vs. Topic

Too often students get papers back from professors with notes such as “Too broad” or “Try to narrow your focus” written on them. Narrowing your focus from a subject to a topic helps prevent you from using too much summary in your paper. Focusing on one topic allows you to fully develop and flush out new ideas of your own.

Narrowing down a subject, which is “broad and general” into a topic or “the specific issue being discussed”  makes it both manageable and arguable, says Laurie Rozakis. In Schaum’s Quick Guide to Writing Great Research Papers 2nd ed., (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2007), 23, she suggests this approach for Shaping Your Ideas.

“Every time you narrow a subject into a topic, remember your boundaries and parameters: time, length, audience, and purpose,” says Rozakis. “Keep all other special considerations in mind as well. Always consider what you can handle within the restrictions you have been given – as well as what you would most enjoy writing about for several weeks or months. Follow these guidelines:

  1. Start with a general subject that interests you and fits the parameters of the assignment.
  2. Phrase the subject as a question.
  3. Brainstorm subdivisions of the subject to create topics.
  4. Consult different sources for possible subtopics. Possibilities include the Internet, card catalog, reference books, magazines, friends, and the media.
  5. Sift the ideas until you find one that suits the assignment, audience, and your preferences.
  6. Write your final topic as a question.

Click here for topic-honing examples and other research paper tips from Rozakis. These ideas are sure to help you narrow your focus from broad subjects to specific topics when writing your papers.

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