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Get Started — Forming a Research Question

A Guide to Starting Your Research Project

Writing out your research question will help you articulate (to yourself and others) the direction of your research – what you need to be looking for as you prepare to gather specific information.

Research Questions - The Good and the Not So Good

(Credit: William Badke)

How do I Know if My Topic is Sustainable

You will not really know if your topic will work until you start searching for information. The information you found while exploring your topic doing background research should give you an idea of whether or not your topic is sustainable.

Test your topic in a few databases by searching for the key concepts or terms. 

  • Are you finding too much information? Perhaps your topic is too general. Add a few more terms to your search and explore (for example, you might feel like you're finding too much on "College Students." Looking for information about "Freshmen," though, will give you fewer and more specific results).
  • Are you finding too little information? Perhaps your topic is too specific. Try searching again using broader synonyms for your search terms (for example, you might not find much on the topic "UConn Students." "College Students" will give you more information).

As you develop your research question, you might find that you need to ask a broader or narrower question, depending upon the resources available and the time you have to complete your assignment.

Sometimes it's hard to determine if a topic is too broad or specific. Try checking in with your instructor (who has a good idea of the field of research!) or a librarian (who has a good idea of the available resources!).

Does Your Research Question Actually Answer a Question?

Sometimes this is referred to as the "so what" - what makes your project interesting and important.

What makes your question important? What makes your question interesting or exciting? Does your question require anything more of you than just repeating the information you've found? (If you find you're just repeating the information found, you probably don't have a very good question).

Developing a Research Question

(Credit: Wilfrid Laurier University Library)

Now apply what you've learned!

Forming the Research Question

As you review the information you've found and the ideas you've encountered, these questions may help you to form a focus for your research:

  • What am I trying to accomplish?
  • How interested am I in this idea?
  • How much time do I have?
  • What information and resources are available?

(From Guided Inquiry: Learning in the 21st Century by Carol Kuhlthau, Leslie Maniotes, and Ann Caspari)

You've been keeping track of your search, and the sources you've found. Look back through your log and consider: 

What have you found? How does the information and ideas you've encountered fit together? What themes have emerged? What important question do you want to develop from the ideas and information you have found? What do you want to explore in more detail? What do you want your research to focus on? 

And - does your research question answer the assignment?

You'll want to make sure that you're not trying to answer too many questions  - think about the time you have available. You'll want to focus on one aspect of your topic.