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Data Services: Developing a Research Question

Developing a Research Question

Don't just pick a topic.  Developing a good research question will make it easier to search for resources and write the paper

  1. Pick a general subject area you are interested in.  You will spend a lot of time with the subject, so pick something that intrigues you.
  2. Do additional background reading on the topic.  This will give you a better foundation and prepare you to narrow your topic.
  3. Brainstorming.  What are the requirements of the assignment?  What do you want to learn more about?
  4. Focus your topic.  Topics are too broad for a research paper.  Begin by thinking of sub-topics.  A librarian can help by using the Library of Congress Subject categories and looking at narrower subject terms.  Books on the subject may list sub-topics as chapter headings.
  5. Formulate a question.  Be sure to ask yourself, "What do I mean?".  It will help to reword the question so that you can create focused search queries.  This will provide clarity to your research and make it much more specific.  
  6. Consider the People, Problems, Perspective and Place that you want to focus on.
  7. Rewrite the question with the details from the 4P's.
  8. List each of the elements of your question and write down synonyms for additional search terms.
  9. Search for resources on each of the broad elements in your research question.  You will then synthesize answers to your question by combining knowledge from the results of your searches.
  10. Make connections between similar materials.  Then generalize using enough sources to answer your research question for your paper.
  11. Librarians can help at each step of the process.

Your Librarian

Matt Benzing's picture
Matt Benzing
207 King Library
(513) 529-7203

Mapping a Research Idea

Mapping your ideas is a process that can help you brainstorm and focus your topic.

  1. Take a blank sheet of paper and in the middle write your topic.  Choose something you are passionate about.
  2. Draw a circle around that topic
  3. Around the outside of the circle, write all the questions you have about your topic.
  4. Use a variety of words and phrases
  5. Pick some of the question that are particularly interesting and add more questions to them.
  6. Focusing on themes can help you narrow your topic.
  7. Ask specific question that you are curious about to narrow your topic.
  8. Pick key words and concepts from your map to create a research question you want to explore.
  9. Double check to be sure your question fits into the assignment and is interesting to you.
  10. Use you keywords to begin searching in library database resources for information about your topic.

A video about the process is here.