Determining and refining your topic is research!
A good way to start is to first visualize your topic as a Venn diagram. This works whether you have a complex topic and are not sure how you will cover every aspect of it, or whether you have a very broad concept, but aren't sure how to narrow. Think of each circle or bubble in a Venn diagram as different facets or aspects or pieces of your topic. Read through the box below for an example.
Sometimes your topic starts fairly broad, like "Alcoholics Anonymous and spirituality".
Clearly two search terms are:
But this is not yet a research topic. What about these terms do you want to learn? When you try to refine a topic consider:
From these two terms, here's an example of a full topic:
We could think of "therapists' attitudes" as a third circle in the Venn diagram, but sometimes it's helpful to break it down further into "therapists", "attitudes":
Look at the small intersection point between all the topics. That small space is YOUR TOPIC. It's very likely there are not many articles written about that exact topic. That's why it's helpful to visualize your topic by separating the facets.
Next, think of other terms for each of the circles or bubbles. Think of both narrower & broader terms. So your diagram might look something like this:
Most topics can be visualized with only 3-4 bubbles. However, some will get more complex, especially for dissertations, and might need 5-6. if you only have 1-2 bubbles, it is not yet a topic. If you have 18 bubbles, you have a bit of a mess, as that would be unwieldy for a single topic.
To learn how to apply these terms in a database, see the next few tabs on this guide about choosing a database & using subject headings. To learn how to narrow/expand your results by combining these terms effectively, see the tab on combining terms.