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Research Basics
Developing a Research Question

The Research Question

Developing research questions are an important the first step in writing a research paper. They help guide you to create a thesis with a direct, specific focus. The research questions you create are the foundation for your paper. Here are a few tips on how to effective ones.

  • Select a general topic for your paper (if you haven't already been assigned one). Your topic should be broad so that you can narrow it down to examine a specific issue relating to it.  Be sure to select a topic that interests you!

  • Write down what you already know or don't know about the topic

  • Develop a list of relevant questions that interest you about the topic. Being interested in what you write about will make writing the paper less tedious. If you're not very familiar with your general topic, do a little background reading to get an idea of the issues that relate to it.

    • Use probing questions such as why? how? what if? should?

    • Avoid questions that can be answered with yes or no.

  • Narrow down your list of questions to topics that aren't too narrow or general, depending on the length requirement of your paper. You won't be able to find enough information on a question that is too specifi.  A very broad topic will yield way too much information to work with.

  • Conduct a preliminary search for information relating to your question. Use search engines to get a general overview on how many resources are available to answer your question. If there seems to be a decent amount, the begin to search for articles and books in the library's academic databases to be sure that  there are enough resources available to you.

  • Refine your research question to give it a clear, direct focus based on your preliminary research. For example, "How did the U.S. get involved in the Vietnam War?" is better than "What role did the U.S. play in the Vietnam War?" because it is focused on a specific part of a very broad issue. You'll have an easier time writing your paper if your research questions are specific, because you'll use your research question(s) to guide you in writing a thesis for your paper.

  • Ask your instructor to look over your research questions to be sure you are focused in the right direction.

Writing a Research Question

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