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Information literacy - European Languages and Cultures: Defining your topic

Defining your topic

After the orientation phase you will have a clearer picture of the scope of your topic, for example:


- what are the boundaries of your topic?


- who are the key people?


- to which location and period does the topic relate?


- who are the main authors?


Define your subject as clearly as possible. Decide which aspects of the topic you will – and will not – explore, so that the topic is not too broad. This will prevent you from going astray when you start looking for information. It is useful to formulate secondary questions for your topic. You can use these in the chapter ‘Defining search terms’.

Making a search more specific: example

This example shows how you can make a subject more specific.


- Initial subject (including what, where, when): industrialization in the Netherlands in the nineteenth century.


- The subject is still too broad and gives too many hits. Make the place and period more specific: the rise of industry in the second half of the nineteenth century in the province of Groningen.


This subject can be made even more specific (place, period, subject): the rise of the strawboard industry in East Groningen between 1870-1900.


- Finally, make the subject and area even more specific: social circumstances of unskilled workers in the strawboard industry in Oude Pekela and Nieuwe Pekela from 1870-1900.

What is your own role?

In most cases, it will not be possible to find literature that gives a precise answer to your research question. You will have to use the literature you find to make connections and arrive at the answers yourself, backing them up with arguments.