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ENGL 102 - Davenport: Develop a Research Question

Developing a Research Question

The key to writing a successful research paper is developing a workable and interesting research question and thesis. Once you've chosen a general topic, you will still need to devise a research question.  A topic and a research question are not the same thing.  A research question is actually a full sentence that you could ask a stranger on the street and be understood.  So, what you will do is restate your topic in question form as a focused research question.  You will then search the literature to find the answer(s) to the question or the solution(s) to the problem. 

Check out these worksheets from the Bedford Researcher to help you refine your research question:


Topic Example 1: Topic: Domestic Abuse 
Most of the time for periodical article database searches, this is not specific enough.  The words alone do not qive you a question to research or answer.  Would a stranger know how to answer if you walked up to them and said "domestic abuse"? Probably not!  They might, however, be able to give you some useful information if you asked one of the following questions:

Translate topic to a Research Question:

    • What type of prevention programs or methods are available for a domestic abuser?
    • Psychological ramifications on children in households where there is domestic abuse or violence?
    • Does domestic abuse happen to men?

Topic Example 2: Topic: Cigarette Advertising
Most of the time for periodical article database searches this "topic" would not be specific enough.  This does not qive you a question to research nor anything to answer.

Translate topic to a Research Question:

    • Is cigarette advertising geared towards getting teenagers to start smoking?
    • Does cigarette advertising affect body image
    • Is cigarette advertising deceptive about addictive qualities of tobacco?
    • Are cigarettes advertised today as they were in the 1950's?