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If your topic is too broad, you'll be doing research for months and may have a much longer paper than you anticipated. If it's too narrow, you may be stuck doing last-minute research to fill in the gaps--or having to start from scratch.

Example: You are an agricultural economics major, and your professor asks you to write a 3-5 page paper on "fish."

You might use the following process to narrow your topic. Think of it as an upside-down triangle: you begin with a broad topic and bring it to a sharp point.

  • "What kind of fish? Guppies, sharks, trout?"
    Catfish.
  • "What about catfish? Farming, natural habitats, conservation, recipes?"
    Catching catfish.
  • "What about catching catfish? Baiting a hook, finding a fishing spot, professional catfishing?"
    Catfish noodling as an extreme sport.

This is a good topic for a 3-5 page paper--you'll need to explain what noodling is, then explain how it is (or is not) an extreme sport.

Now that you've identified a topic, you can transform it into a thesis statement:

"Catfish noodling is an unconventional extreme sport that generates revenue for rural Mississippi communities."

Narrowing your topic

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