A topic is too broad to be workable when you find that you have too many different (but oftentimes remotely related) ideas about that topic. While you want to start the writing process with as many ideas as possible, you will want to narrow your focus at some point so that you aren't attempting to do too much in one essay.
Where essays requiring research are concerned, your topic is too broad if you are able to find thousands of sources when conducting a simple library or Internet search.
For example, conducting a search on "foreign languages in Oregon" will provide you with policies, foreign language departments, and cultural issues (just to name a few). When this happens, you can try various narrowing strategies to determine what most interests you about your topic area and what relates to your own life most readily. For instance, if you plan to study abroad, focusing on the language you'll be speaking might be a way to narrow the scope of your original topic, "foreign languages in Oregon."
Make your results list more manageable. Less, but more relevant, information is key. Here are some options to consider when narrowing the scope of your paper:
Though student writers most often face the challenge of limiting a topic that is too broad, they occasionally have to recognize that they have chosen a topic that is too narrow or that they have narrowed a workable topic too much.
A topic is too narrow if you can't find any information about it. For example, suppose your foreign language subject to, "foreign language policy in South Dakota." Although you might have a strong interest in this topic, South Dakota may not have a specific policy about foreign languages. If you have chosen the topic, "teaching Chinese in elementary schools," and your research attempts have been fruitless, it may be that you are considering a topic that no one else has previously presented. In other words, no one has determined that Chinese should be a major language taught as commonly as Spanish or French. If this happens to be the case, keep your topic in mind, because it could very well be an excellent topic for a graduate thesis or dissertation. However, it is also likely to be a difficult topic to handle in a ten-page essay for an education class, due in two weeks.
If your topic is too narrow, try making it broader by asking yourself related questions.
Once you've found a different direction in which to move with your topic, you can try narrowing it again.
Not finding enough information? Think of related ideas, or read some background information first. You may not be finding enough information for several reasons, including:
Once you have a solid topic, formulate your research question or hypothesis and begin finding information.
If you need guidance with topic formulation, the Library staff are happy to help you focus your ideas.