Students often struggle with identifying and narrowing a research question or topic. It is important to remind students that research is a non-linear process which requires persistence and patience. Question development is a skill that takes practice, initial research, feedback, error, and discovery.
Picking a Topic:
Depending on the course, students may be provided with research or essay topics or they may be expected to pick their own topic. Often even if a topic is assigned, students will still be required to refine the topic to a specific research question.
Here are some guiding questions students can ask themselves when deciding on their topic:
Refining a Topic and Formulating a Research Question:
There are various ways to refine and focus a research topic:
Questions, questions, questions: students can begin noting interesting questions to help focus their topic and brainstorm potential research questions. These may be good prompts to ask: who? what? when? why? why not? why does this matter? where? how? in what ways? so what? under what circumstances?
A good research question is:
"Research questions help writers focus their research by providing a path through the research and writing process. The specificity of a well-developed research question helps writers avoid the “all-about” paper and work toward supporting a specific, arguable thesis" (source).
The resources below provide many examples of good research questions (as compared to poor research questions or topics).
The contents within this chapter are: