Narrow a topic idea
You may not know right away what your research question is. Gather information on the broader topic to explore new possibilities and to help narrow your topic. Brainstorm some search terms and try likely databases to see what scholars are saying about the topic.
- What subtopics relate to the broader topic?
- What questions do these sources raise?
- What do you find interesting about the topic?
Consider your audience. Who would be interested in the issue?
From Topic to Research Question
After choosing a topic and gathering background information, add focus with a research question.
Write down a few exploratory questions
- Ask open-ended “how” and “why” questions about your general topic.
- Consider the “so what” of your topic. Why does this topic matter to you? Why should it matter to others?
- Reflect on the questions you have considered. Identify one or two questions you find engaging and which
- could be explored further through research.
Determine and evaluate your research question
- What aspect of the more general topic you will explore? (If you're stuck, pull from current event(s), a course lecture or course readings, etc.)
- Is your research question clear?
- Is your research question focused? (Research questions must be specific enough to be well covered within the length/scope of a standard college-level research project).
Unfocused: What is the effect on the environment from global warming?
Focused: How is glacial melting affecting penguins in Antarctica?
- Is your research question complex? (Questions shouldn’t have a simple or yes/no answer and should require research and analysis.)
After you’ve come up with a question, consider the path your answer might take.
- If you are making an argument, what will you say?
- Why does your argument matter?
- How might others challenge your argument?
- What kind of sources will you need to support your argument?
Adapted from George Mason University Writing Center’s How to write a research question and Indian University Bloomington’s Develop A Research Question.