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Legal Studies

Develop Your Research Topic

Just like the research process, picking a topic is more complex than you might think.

Are you still having trouble? You might want to check out this handout for some additional guidance on topic ideas:

If you are unfamiliar with your potential topic, you may need to research background information before you can develop a strong research question. Background information can come in many forms. You may hear a librarian or professor refer to the sources that contain this type of information as "reference books". Background information can help you identify key names, dates, events, issues, concepts, and terms associated with the topic. 

Some good sources to find background information:

  • Your textbook or class readings
  • Reference books
  • Credible websites
  • Library databases

Here are a few sources we suggest you explore:

Search Background Information:

Sometimes a topic that seems like the right size can seem way too big after you’ve learned a little more about it. When this happens, you need to narrow the focus of your topic. You can do this by considering different ways to restrict your research topic.

Some of the ways you can limit your topic are by:

  • Who - population or group
  • What - discipline or focus
  • Where - geographic location
  • When - time period or era
  • Why - why is the topic important?
For example, attempting to research American Indian culture would be very overwhelming. However, researching birthing rituals of the Osage Indian tribe in late 20th century might be just right.

(adapted from U of Michigan - Finding and Exploring Your Topic)

Broadening Your Topic 
Sometimes you will find that your topic is too narrow - there is not enough published on your topic. When this happens, you can try to broaden your topic. There are a couple of strategies you can try when broadening your topic. 

One strategy is to choose less specific terms for your search:

  • Osage Indians instead of Osage Indians of North America
  • Birthing rituals instead of birthing and midwives 

Another strategy is to broaden your topic by changing or removing limits from your topic:

  • Who - population or group 
  • What - discipline or focus
  • Where - geographic location
  • When - time period or era 
For example, trying to research instruments used by midwives of the Osage tribe in 1990 might be too difficult/specific. However, a researching midwife practices of Osage Indians in late 20th century might be just right. 

(adapted from U of Michigan - Finding and Exploring Your Topic)