Narrowing Research Paper Topics

I want to start off by stating my awareness of Sharon Crowley's position in "The Evolution of Current-Traditional Rhetoric" that narrowing down an essay topic is an overly simple, current-traditional approach to invention. I concede that she has a good point and that just "narrowing down" without a specific rhetorical purpose for doing so is problematic. However, it is practical and expedient to have good strategies for focusing during the research and writing process, and years of experience -- both teaching and writing -- convince me that research papers are much, MUCH BETTER when the topics are narrow.

So I'm working on a handout to add to the 70+ documents on my writing program's site for instructors. To that site, I upload all the documents I can possibly think of that could help someone teaching writing: assignment handouts, descriptions of class activities, policies, procedures...someone even requested that I write a script for an email a teacher could use to warn a student that s/he is in danger of failing a course for low attendance. That's up there too.

Anyway, the start of the handout:

How to tell when a topic is too broad, and how to narrow it down

Topics that are broad usually...

have a long history. Decades would count as a long history.
affect large groups of people nationwide, or worldwide.

Ways you can narrow your topic:

Examine the issue during a specific point in time (the year 2009, for example)
Focus on how the issue plays out in a specific location (city, state)
Focus on how the issue affects a specific group of people (auto workers, single mothers, recent college graduates)

I'd appreciate finding out about other ways you've advised students to focus their inquiry when writing research papers.