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Writing 10 (Silbaugh)

About Research Questions

Forming a Research Question

  • By asking a research question, you are keeping an open mind about what the research may reveal. 
  • As you develop a research question, consider these criteria.
  • If you have an existing research question, see if your question is TRUE for these five criteria.  If so, then your research question is probably workable. 
thought bubble question


Your research question ...

  1. is not easily answered with a simple yes or no. 
It has some substance and requires explanation.
  1. has an underlying problem with social significance (local, national or international). 
It is important to someone other than just you!
  1. poses a genuine question and aims for neutrality.
It avoids using loaded language or suggesting a pre-determined answer.
  1. can be answered with reliable evidence.
It is re-searchable.  Others have already been contributing to this conversation.
  1. has appropriate scope.
It is not too narrow, nor too broad; it does not leave you with too much or too little information. 

Together: You will have to do some preliminary research to really discover if all of these statements are TRUE for your proposed research question.

Video: Picking Your Topic IS Research

NCSU Libraries (3:10)

What is the main takeaway? 

Finding the Right Scope for Your Topic

It's very common to select a topic or formulate a question that starts out too broad. When the scope of your topic is too big, it's hard to dig through the huge volume of information available to find something relevant or write a paper with any depth. 

Topic Area: undocumented immigrants 

Most scholarly research examines fairly narrow topics and looks at relationships between concepts.  For example, undocumented immigrants is a pretty broad topic, but looking at the relationship between undocumented immigrants and higher education might be a more manageable topic.

Discussion:  Do you think these research questions have potential?  What is good or lacking in them?

Research Question 1: How can the United States support undocumented immigrants? 

Research Question 2: How can institutions of higher learning help undocumented students complete college successfully?

Having trouble deciding on a topic?