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Developing a Research Question

In a research paper, you develop a unique question and then synthesize scholarly and primary sources into a paper that supports your argument about the topic.

  1. Identify your Topic (This is the starting place from where you develop a research question.)
  2. Refine by Searching (find background information) (Before you can start to develop a research question, you may need to do some preliminary background research to see (1) what has already been done on the topic and (2) what are the issues surrounding the topic.) HINT: Find background information in Google and Books.
  3. Refine by Narrowing (Once you begin to understand the topic and the issues surrounding it, you can start to narrow your topic and develop a research question. Do this by asking the 6 journalistic question words.

6 Journalistic Question Words to help you refine by Narrowing

Who: Are you interested in a specific group of people? Can your topic be narrowed by gender, sex, age, ethnicity, socio-economic status or something else? Are there any key figures related to your topic?

What: What are the issues surrounding your topic? Are there subtopics? In looking at background information, did you notice any gaps or questions that seemed unanswered?

Where: Can your topic be narrowed down to a geographic location? Warning: Don't get too narrow here. You might not be able to find enough information on a town or state.

When: Is your topic current or historical? Is it confined to a specific time period? Was there a causative event that led your topic to become an area of study?

Why: Why are you interested in this topic? Why should others be interested?

How: What kinds of information do you need? Primary sources, statistics? What is your methodology?