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Introduction to Social Work: Narrowing and Keywords

This guide was created to help students find the best sources for their social work research papers.

Narrowing a Topic

Once you have selected a topic, you need to narrow it down.

This means you select a smaller part of the main topic to research.

How Can You Narrow the Topic?

Once you have selected a broad topic, such as Global Warming or Drug Abuse, you should try to narrow your focus.  Here are some ways to narrow the topic:

  • Pick one aspect of the topic: Causes, Prevention,  Effects, Treatment.

  • Pick a location or subgroup:  New York, College Students, Teenagers, Athletes

  • Select a person closely related to the topic

Now you can put your narrower topic into a research question. Here are some examples:

What are the causes of global warming?

How can we prevent child abuse?

What are the effects of steroid use on athletes?

Why do college students use illegal drugs?

Now you need to identify the keywords for your research.

Narrow Your Topic

Here are some examples of narrower topics in Social Justice:

1. Research Question: What is racism?

Main Subject: Racism

Narrower topic #1 : Racism in the military

Narrower topic #2: Preventing  discrimination against ____( any religious or ethnic group.)

Narrower topic # 3: Cyberbullying among teens

2. Research Question: How are children exploited?

Main Subject:  Child labor

Narrower topic #1 : How can we end child labor?

Narrow topic #2: What are the effects of child labor?

Narrower topic #3: How are children used as soldiers?

3. Research Question: What is global warming?

Main Subject: Climate change

Narrower topic #1: What are the effects of climate change?

Narrower topic #2: How can we prevent climate change ?

Narrower topic #3: Which species have become endangered by climate change?


Finding Keywords

What Are Your Keywords?

When you are searching for books and articles on your topic, you will need to select some keywords. Keywords help point your search in the right directio and are like the main ideas in a sentence or paragraph.

  The words in your research question are perfect starting points.

For example, What are the causes of global warming? The keywords are causes and global warming.  But there are other words that might help you.

Terms that mean the same thing ( synonyms) are also worthwhile keywords.

  Global warming is sometimes called climate change and drug use among athletes is sometimes called doping.  Using different terms to locate information will give you greater results.


Identify Keywords

Here are some examples of keywords for the topics on the left.


racism, discrimination, hate crimes, sexism, crimes against _____,

bullying, cyberbullying, antisemitism, workplace discrimination,

cause, effect, prevention,  issues, analysis



child labor, sweatshops, unfair labor, children, factories,

child soldiers, cause, effect, prevention, issues, analysis



 # 3.

climate change, global warming, weather disasters, extreme weather, floods

endangered species, polar bears, effect, cause, prevention, issues,

controversy, analysis