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ENG W509: Introduction to Writing and Literacy Studies

This guide was created in connection with a library instruction session in fall 2015. Please contact the librarian if you have questions.

Refining a Research Question

Below are some journalistic questions to ask yourself when considering how to start a research project. These are included as a guiding framework for you to think about and shape your topic. There may be other questions that you need to ask yourself that are not on this list. Use your critical thinking skills and the assignment parameters to determine what is an appropriate research question. If you are stuck here, try reading some background information (from an encyclopedia, a reference database, or a general history book) and then come back. Getting some background information on your topic may help you answer these questions better.

Who? Think about the people that are involved or affected by your topic. Are you interested in a specific group of people? Does your topic related to a trait like gender, sex, age, ethnicity, socio-economic status or something else? Are there key figures in related to your topic? Also, consider your audience--who would be interested to read about this topic?

What? What are the issues involved with your topic? Are there subtopics that you should investigate? Is there research about this topic that has not yet been done?

Where? Does place matter? Where did or does your topic take place? Is geography a factor? 

When? What time period are you investigating? Are you investigating a historical or current topic? Was there an event that happened that caused your topic to become an area of study? 

Why? What got you interested in this topic? Why would others be interested? 

How? How are you going to approach this topic? What kinds of information will you gather? What is your methodology?

 

Is your topic worth pursuing? Does it fill a "gap"?

Consider the theoretical or practical implications of your research topic. Will your paper advance the scholarly conversation about theory in your field? Does it critique existing theories and provide a new perspective? Will your paper provide practical information for professionals in the field to improve their methods or strategies? 

Consider the methodology

In general, it is best to form your research question before deciding upon what methodology you would like to use. First, carefully consider your research question. What aspects of the topic are most interesting to you? Then, reach into the knowledge of methodologies that you have gained from this course to decide which one would be the best approach for your question. What is the data you want to collect? Is the methodology compatible with the results you are interested in? In other words, does the methodology help you answer your research question?

Literature Review Process

Literature Review Cycle

Flowchart from The Literature Review (2009) by Machi and McEvoy

 

Detailed description of, "Literature Review Process"

Consider the Scope of your Question

If your question has an easy "yes" or "no" answer, it's probably not a research question. Similarly, if your topic would require tremendous background knowledge, experience, or collection of lots of data, you may not have chosen a feasible question. Your research question should be narrow enough to work on in the time that you have during your semester and broad enough to to be able to locate supporting information ("sources").

Now is the time to talk with your instructor if you have doubts about the amount of work it will take to investigate your question.