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Research Basics: Developing a Research Question


Source: Wilfrid Laurier University Library

List What You Already Know

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

List Questions that Interest You

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. Use probing questions such as why? how? what if? should? Avoid questions that can be answered with yes or no.

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. 

Narrow Your List of Questions

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 specific. A very broad topic will yield way too much information to work with.

Refine Your Question

Conduct a preliminary search for information relating to your question. Use search engines, library databases, and the library catalog to be sure that there are enough resources available to you in order to research this question.

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.


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