The scope of a paper is the range of ideas your writing will cover. Choose a range of ideas that you can support and analyze fully in the number of pages in the guidelines for your assignment.

You can think of the scope of your paper as the “rules” that determine what you will include and what you will not. It should provide a clear answer to your reader’s question “Why didn’t you talk about X?” If your scope is working for you, the answer should be clear to the reader: “X was outside the scope of the paper.”

For example, if you are writing about voter apathy in the last state election among college students in your home town, and you have made it clear that this is your topic, your reader has a clear answer to questions like, “Why didn’t you write about voters in Sweden?” or “Why didn’t you write about people like my grandfather who’s never voted in his life?” or “why didn’t you write about nineteenth-century voting patterns in your town?”

Notice some of the ways that this topic of “voter apathy” is narrowed in scope:

  • By time period: “in the last election”
  • By geographical location: “your hometown”
  • By population or demographic: “college students”

Not every topic can be narrowed in all of these ways, but being specific about as many variables as you can will help you to define your topic in such a way that you’ll be able to cover it all fully.

Be sure, however, that you have logical reasons for the way you’ve narrowed your scope.

Use the language of your thesis statement to establish your scope by including each of the parameters you’ve come up with.

For example, a thesis statement that includes the parameters listed above might be: College students in Springfield were the least likely group to vote in state elections last year because this group did not see state issues as having an impact on their lives.

For more information about establishing scope in your thesis statement see the Purdue Online Writing Center.