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Think Like a Researcher: Instruction Resources: #6 Developing Successful Research Questions

Teaching Research And Information Literacy (TRAIL) Curriculum Resources for Writing 10

Outcomes

Course Learning Outcome:  Develop ability to synthesize and express complex ideas; demonstrate information literacy and be able to work with evidence

Goal:  Develop students’ ability to recognize and create successful research questions

Specifically, students will be able to

  • identify the components of a successful research question.
  • create a viable research question.

What Makes a Good Research Topic Handout

These handouts are intended to be used as a discussion generator that will help students develop a solid research topic or question. Many students start with topics that are poorly articulated, too broad, unarguable, or are socially insignificant. Each of these problems may result in a topic that is virtually un-researchable. Starting with a researchable topic is critical to writing an effective paper.

Research shows that students are much more invested in writing when they are able to choose their own topics. However, there is also research to support the notion that students are completely overwhelmed and frustrated when they are given complete freedom to write about whatever they choose. Providing some structure or topic themes that allow students to make bounded choices may be a way mitigate these competing realities.

These handouts can be modified or edited for your purposes.  One can be used as a handout for students while the other can serve as a sample answer key.  The document is best used as part of a process.  For instance, perhaps starting with discussing the issues and potential research questions, moving on to problems and social significance but returning to proposals/solutions at a later date.

Additional Resources

These documents have similarities to those above.  They represent original documents and conversations about research questions from previous TRAIL trainings.

Topic Selection (NCSU Libraries)

Reading

Howard, Rebecca Moore, Tricia Serviss, and Tanya K. Rodrigues. "Writing from sources, writing from sentences." Writing & Pedagogy 2.2 (2010): 177-192.

Research Journal

Assign after students have participated in the Developing Successful Research Topics/Questions Lesson OR have drafted a Research Proposal.

Think about your potential research question.

  1. What is the problem that underlies your question?
  2. Is the problem of social significance? Explain.
  3. Is your proposed solution to the problem feasible? Explain.
  4. Do you think there is evidence to support your solution?

Keys for Writers - Additional Resource

Keys for Writers (Raimes and Miller-Cochran) includes a section to guide students in the formation of an arguable claim (thesis).  The authors advise students to avoid the following since they are not debatable. 

  • "a neutral statement, which gives no hint of the writer's position"
  • "an announcement of the paper's broad subject"
  • "a fact, which is not arguable"
  • "a truism (statement that is obviously true)"
  • "a personal or religious conviction that cannot be logically debated"
  • "an opinion based only on your feelings"
  • "a sweeping generalization" (Section 4C, pg. 52)

The book also provides examples and key points (pg. 53) for a good working thesis.