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Research 101

The steps of the research process & how to apply them.

1e. Refine Your Topic

Narrow It Down

You’ve chosen a topic, and you have several sources about it. But you now have too much information to fit into a paper of the required length.

It’s time to refine.

How to Refine Your Topic

Figure 1
How to Develop a Good Research Topic

Note. From How to Develop a Good Research Topic, by Kansas State Libraries, , YouTube ( Copyright by Kansas State University.

Too Little or Too Much?

Too Much Information?

Your topic is too broad.

Narrow it by:

  • Time period

    2000–2012; pre-Independence, etc.

  • Geographic location

    Oklahoma, Alva, North America, etc.

  • Population

    Age, race, sex, or other group

  • A smaller piece of the topic:

    • Genre
    • Event
    • Aspect
    • Discipline or subject

Too Little Information?

Your topic is too narrow.

Broaden it by:

  • Exploring related issues

  • Identifying wider implications

  • Identifying the key players

  • Comparing or contrasting with another topic

  • Expanding the:

    • Time period covered
    • Population considered
    • Geographic area discussed

Search Techniques

Boolean Logic

To adjust the amount of information you find, combine search terms with Boolean operators: And, or, and not.

Boolean logic is an extension of algebra and classical logic described by George Boole. His theory informs all programming languages and is incorporated into internet search engines and library catalogs. Venn diagrams, such as those shown below, illustrate Boolean operations.

  • And narrows a search. Both terms connected by and will appear in the results. You get only results in which both terms occur.

    ANDA Venn diagram demonstrating that the Boolean operator AND will produce only those results containing both search terms.AND


    • internet and security

    • television and violence

  • Or expands a search. Either or both of the terms connected by or will appear in the results. You get all results in which either term occurs.

    ORA Venn diagram demonstrating that the Boolean operator OR will produce results containing any of the named search terms.OR


    • college or univeristy

    • teenager or adolescent

  • Not narrows a search by excluding a term. Records containing the search term preceded by not will be eliminated. This removes irrelevant results.

    NOTA Venn diagram demonstrating that the Boolean operator NOT will exclude any words proceeding it.NOT


    • java not coffee

    • bears not football

Note: Some online databases, including our catalog, require you to type Boolean operators in all caps. Otherwise, the database will treat an operator as just another search term!

Truncation & Wildcards

Truncation or wildcard symbols can broaden your search to look for word variations.


  • Truncation retrieves various word endings and spellings.

  • Common characters used for truncation are question marks, exclamation marks, or asterisks, depending on the database or search engine.

  • Enter the root of a word and put the truncation symbol at the end. Your results will include any word beginning with that root.

Example: educat* will retrieve educate, educating, educational, education, educator, and educators.


  • Substitute a symbol for one letter in the middle of a word.

  • This tells the database to search for any variation of a word.

  • Using one wildcard symbol will replace one character, two symbols will replace two characters, and so forth.

Example: wom#n will retrieve woman and women.