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Academic Writing and Referencing Style: Narrowing Your Topic

Reduce Scope

Reducing your scope essentially means to narrow your focus.  Resist the urge to include everything; most times, professors are only looking for a few pages, not a book. 

How narrow is the scope of your paper?  Is it on an entire issue (gun control), or one or two aspects of your subject (gun control on college campuses)?  If you find yourself trying to cover everything in your paper, choose one or two specific elements you want to discuss, and circle them. 

From there, start to come up with examples that focus more on those specific elements of the topic, and less on the topic as a whole.


(Adapted from Rosenwasser and Stephen, 2009)

Suspect Your First Responses

Suspect your first responses:  

This is where drafting is important – and something to think about for the next draft your write.  Our first responses are often superficial, obvious, and general.  Examine your first responses for the ways they are general and perhaps inaccurate, and consider the implications of these inaccuracies as a way into a new draft.


For example, look at the following paragraph:

Since the beginning of time, men and women have always had clear relationships. In the olden days, men hunted, while women cooked and took care of children. Nowadays, that relationship is more complex, as women's rights have recently been granted. Women can now do many things, such as work full-time, as well as take care of their families. However, more and more men are also taking on household duties. The women's movement has helped men become more understanding of women's roles and be more flexible in their own roles.


What are the general statements in this paragraph? What statements are historically inaccurate, or aren't clear enough to determine their accuracy? How might this paragraph be better composed, with more specific points?


Try this exercise with your own writing. Look at your introduction, for example, and question what you wrote. Is it too general? Can you narrow the focus a little more? What specific examples can you draw from to help you write a more specific paragraph?

"10 on 1" vs. "1 on 10"

What is “10 on 1?”

10 on 1 is an exercise in analyzing evidence developed by Dr. Jill Stephen and Dr. David Rosenwasser in their book Writing Analytically.  Rosenwasser and Stephen theorize that “making ten points about your most telling example (10 on 1) is a fruitful alternative to repeatedly pointing to a similarity among ten related examples (1 on 10)” (43).  What becomes at stake using 10 on 1 in analyzing evidence is depth, not breadth.  The more interesting claims you can make about your evidence and how it relates to your thesis, the more interesting your paper will be.  The number “10” does not always have to be reached in drawing conclusions about your example; “the important idea we intend 10 on 1 to communicate is that you should draw out as much meaning as possible from your best examples.”  By pushing your mind to create as many new and interesting claims as it can, you begin thinking more critically about your topic, drawing out the implications lying at the heart of your paper.


An Exercise in 10 on 1:

A good way to use 10 on 1 is with the first draft of a paper.  You have already chosen your examples; now you can explore them more fully and draw out the more interesting implications that you might be aware of, but unable to articulate as of yet.  This exercise will hopefully help you with thesis development, as well as being able to write more about your evidence…


First, write the main focus of your essay on a separate sheet of paper:

Now, take an example and make between 5 and 10 claims about your example. 

Things to think about:

v What does this example show about my thesis?

v How do I use this example in my paper?

v Is it clear to the reader what this example means?

v Why did I choose this example?