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ENGL 106 - Business Writing - Richards

How To: Background Reading to Understand Your Topic

There is a tendency for people to type general questions into a database and hope for the best. While this barely works for Google, it definitely doesn't work well with the databases. By identifying the more narrow parts of your initial question you will get more meaningful results. Here is an example of how you can break down a general question into it's narrower concepts. 

Why are bees disappearing?

I am not a bee expert, so there are multiple places I can look for answers. If I choose AccessScience (because bees are related to a science) and type in bees disappearing, I find this article titled "Colony Collapse Disorder"

From this article, I can answer some questions I didn't even know I had.   

This table explains how general terms can be adjusted to specific terms. 
General Term What I didn't know before Better Choice
bees What kind of bees? adult honeybees
disappearing Is there a term scientists use for this? "Colony Collapse Disorder"
why What explanations exist?  pesticides

From here I can adjust my original question about why bees are disappearing (the result) to identify a cause and use more narrow language. 

Pesticides are causing Colony Collapse Disorder in honeybee colonies. 


Broad / Narrow / Just Right

Your topic is too broad if...

  • you are having difficulty discussing something in depth or writing something original.
  • the only similarity between your resources is that they are both on the same piece of literature. 
  • there are a lot of subtopics within the concept.

Example that is too broad: Charter Schools.  


Your topic is too narrow if...

  • you get no (or only a few) results in the databases. 
  • you get a lot results in the databases, but they're not what you're looking for.
  • you can't seem to find anything to support your ideas.

Example that is too narrow: Charter school attendance by the children of Pennsylvania state senators. 

Your topic is just right if...

  • you readily find articles that match with your ideas.
  • you can see the connection between the work, the article, and your interest.
  • you feel like you'll be able to write enough without stretching it or editing it down too much.

Example that is just right: The differences between how republican and democratic state senators vote on charter school laws.

Browsing Case Histories

For your research assignments, your team will need to select two business events involving communication ethics.  If you don't have a topic in mind, try browsing through some business case studies for ideas.  Here are a few places to start.

Focused EBook

Case Studies in Organizational Communication: Ethical Perspectives and Practices

This ebook includes 23 case studies, including well-known and lesser-known cases, and is an excellent starting point, since all of the cases were identified by the editor as having an ethical communication aspect.  


Journals--General Business Cases

These journals collect business cases on various themes.  You will need to use your judgment to identify cases that involve communication ethics.  You can browse issues by date or search using the "search within this publication" box.  

Journal of Business Case Studies

Journal of Case Studies

Journal of Critical Incidents

Business Case Journal