B. Determing the Scope of Your Paper


  • Determine the depth (level of detail) and breadth (number of topics discussed) of your paper by considering how much information you’ll be able to find and how much you need to support your claims.

In the brainstorming process, you’ll also want to consider the depth and breadth of your topic. Avoid topics that are extremely broad. For example, it would be difficult to write a paper that discusses the ‘Middle Ages.’ Why? Because The Middle Ages spanned a number of years and involved a variety of forces–cultural, religious, and political. Any attempt to cover such a broad topic as The Middle Ages would be futile. You’ll encounter too much research, and you won’t be able to cover everything in a paper-sized piece of writing.

Tip: You may have to go back and forth between determining the scope of your paper and doing preliminary research.

Also try to avoid topics that are too obscure. For instance, “belly dancing in North Dakota” would be a poor topic choice. It would be difficult to find enough information on such a niche.

Finding the perfect balance of depth (level of detail) and breath (number of topics discussed) can be tricky, but here are some helpful things to consider when determining the extent of your research:

  • How long the paper is.
  • Any precedents. Ask you teacher for a model essay. Reading such an example will give you an idea for how deeply you need to dive into your research.
  • How much information you need to support claims in your paper.

When thinking about the scope of your paper, you’ll also want to do a little preliminary research.



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