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Evaluating Information in the Research Process: Step 4: Refine Topic / Refine Search

Created by Health Science Librarians

Step 4: Refine Topic

StepStep 4: Refine Topic

If you are happy with the general topic you selected, great! Step 4 will help you refine and focus your topic. 

If you are dissatisfied with your topic, you can change it. It is better to start over than to work on a topic you aren’t really interested in or is not working for you. Reflect on what you have learned before you start over. 

Refine Topic

So far, you have probably picked a broad subject area (for example, rock music) and a general topic (e.g., the Beatles). Now you need to narrow your topic further. 

Look for a  specific aspect of the topic, such as how it relates to another subject or topic. This will make your exploration unique, and thus valuable. 

For example, you could decide to focus on how the Beatles were influenced by blues music, or how Ringo became a member of the band. Or to use an example from classical music, you could narrow down the general topic of  "Mozart" to a narrower topic on how Mozart was influenced by Haydn. 

  • What fascinates me about this topic?  

  • What would I like to learn about this topic? 

  • What important aspects of this topic are unexplored in the literature (where are there gaps)?  

Write down your answers to these questions.

Consider how your questions relate to the literature you have reviewed thus far.  

Based on your questions and thoughts, refine your topic and write down a description of it. 

Refine Search

Conduct another search to uncover valuable information pertaining to your refined topic. 

  • Use a database or search engine to search using keywords that pertain to your narrower topic.  This worksheet can help you construct your search strategy.

  • Create bookmarks for important sources. Add references to your citation database.

  • Delete bookmarks for sources that no longer seem to be important.

Outcomes for Step 4: Refine Topic

  • Questions about topic

  • Refined topic description 

  • Refined sets of bookmarks and citations 


NEXT: Step 5, Identify Key Sources