Just right

Cover from The Three Bears storybook

By The_three_bears.djvu: McLoughlin derivative work: Theornamentalist (This file was derived from:  The_three_bears.djvu) [Public domain],

via Wikimedia Commons

Ariew and van Ingen (2014) studied topic development in two sections of a course.  To assess the topics they developed a rubric which covered:

  • The research question itself
  • The research strategy used
  • The articles found 

Though I’m happy to discuss the rubric at length with you,  I’ll highlight one item.

The item asks if the topic was too broad, too narrow, or–as in The Three Bears– just right.   The presenters illustrated each level with examples.  I focus on this item because it is a common enough (at least in my experience) concern for both students and faculty.   I also choose it because it reinforces Ariew and van Ingen’s (2014) call for student practice in this area.

Finally it makes a point about information literacy.  Topics often start out as too broad or too narrow.  Students need to know that refinement is a natural part of the research process.  After all Goldilocks sampled chairs, beds, and porridge that were unmanageable. before finding the ones that were just right.


Ariew, A., & van Ingen, S. (2014, October 22). Moving from impossible to manageable: Helping Students manage and focus research topics [Archived presentation]. Retrieved from


P.S.  I thank Susan Ariew and Sarah van Ingen for using the Three Bears analogy in their presentation.