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Document research is the process of reading through existing documentation relevant to a certain project or area of interest; document research is an important part of writing research papers and practicing law.


The purpose of document research is to synthesis existing ideas that pertain to a certain topic to inform and shape one's research.

Document Review

In law, "document review" is a process of analyzing all the documents that may pertain to a certain court case, patent, copyright or other legal issue.


Document research can help research avoid copying existing work and account for flaws or considerations raised in other studies; in law it can help attorneys study specific legal issues and prepare for cases or other legal issues.

Time Frame

The time it takes to conduct document research can vary based on how thorough the researcher wants to be--it could take a few hours or hundreds of hours.


Document research can be a laborious process; sometimes law firms use temporary labor as a cheaper way to conduct document review.


United Nations: Document Research Guide



UNDERSTANDING DBQs and Primary Resources

Size Up The More Promising Questions (from http://writing.colostate.edu/guides/researchsources/researchquestion/size.cfm)

You're looking for manageability. Which questions are narrow enough for a fruitful investigation using the library, the Internet or some field work? Many will have too wide a scope for the time constraints of a semester. Here are some examples:

  • How is the climate of the earth changing?
  • Why does poverty exist?
  • What's going on in outer space?

Too narrow of a question will also cause problems. Avoid restricting yourself to the point where finding relevant sources becomes difficult or impossible. For example:

  • How did John F. Kennedy's maternal grandfather influence the decisions he made during his first month as president?

If one or two sources will answer your question, it may not be substantial enough to bother with, either. Your paper will be too thin, a summary rather than a true research paper. Avoid questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no, or a few statistics. In the end, they just aren't interesting enough to pursue.

  • Are there more black students or white students in the freshman class this year?

The question doesn't have enough meat on the bone. By focusing on something more specific regarding a significant issue, you will find more and better information. Your document will also be far more interesting to research and write. Questions regarding issues that people take seriously and about which they are more passionate inevitably lead to a livelier debate:

  • What is the ratio of black students to white students on campus and how does it effect everyday student relations?

Some questions to ask of the question:

  • Is the scope of your question appropriate: not too wide, not too narrow?
  • Is it manageable within the time constraints allowed?
  • Will the answer fit the page and word requirements of the assignment?
  • Can you find sufficient and timely information in the library?
  • Will Internet, Web, and field research produce more source material?
  • Is your question simple enough to seek just one answer, not several?
  • Is it specific enough that your audience will understand your objective?
  • Will the results be interesting? Does it concern a real and debatable issue?
  • Does your question really interest you? Do you honestly crave the answer?

How to Narrow or Broaden Your Topic

Be prepared to be flexible with your topic idea!

  • If it is too broad or vague you will find too much information and will need to narrow the focus.
  • If it is too specific or specialized or new, it will be difficult finding enough information to write your paper this quarter. In that case, you will need to broaden your idea.


How to Narrow Your Topic (from http://www.library.ucla.edu/libraries/college/11605_11640.cfm)

Example:I'm thinking of doing a paper on "fashion." This topic could develop in many different ways.

Hint: Ask Yourself Questions About Your Topic:

  • What do you know about it? What don't you know?
  • What aspects of your topic interest you: historical, sociological, psychological, etc.?
  • What time period do you want to cover?
  • On what geographic region do you want to focus?
  • What kind of information do you need?
    • A brief summary or a lengthy explanation?
    • Periodical articles, books, essays, encyclopedia articles?
    • Statistics?

Sample Topic Narrowing Chart:

General Topic:


Time span:



US; urban; big cities (not rural)

Person or group:

youth; college age

Event or Aspects:

sexual attitudes; behavior; sociological


How to Broaden Your Topic

Example: I'm thinking of doing a paper on "whether genetically altered soybeans are safe for consumers."

This topic as stated is seeking to answer a question for which there may be no answer yet -- more scientific and long-term research may need to be done. How can this be turned into a more manageable topic?

Hint 1: Look for parallels and opportunities for broader associations:

  • Could you examine other bioengineered foods, in addition to soybeans?
  • Could you think broadly about safety concerns and issues -- what might these be?
  • Who are the key players in this controversy? Consumer activists? The FDA? Scientists?
  • What other issues are involved in this topic? Such as, how should be foods be labeled?

Hint 2: Brainstorm! (and ask a reference librarian!)

Sample Topic Broadening Chart:

Specific Topic:

Are genetically altered soybeans safe for consumers?

Alternate focus:

bioengineered or genetically altered foods

Alternate Place:

general: US, Europe

Brainstorm Focus on: Person or Group:

consumer advocates vs FDA and scientists

Brainstorm Focus on:
Event or Aspect:

labeling foods; regulations