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Sociology 215: Graduate Research Methods (Beattie - Spring 2024)

Step 1 - Your Research Question

Coming up with a research question Decorative element (magnifying glass with a question mark in the center of the lens)can be challenging, but it's all part of the research process. In some cases, your instructor may give you a topic or in other cases, you may join a lab that is already working on a project with a defined research question, but if you are on your own, this page will give you some guidance.

Part of coming up with a manageable research question is also knowing what your "information need" is. In other words, what kinds of sources do you need to help you answer your question?

Tip: Remember that the research process is non-linear and sometimes messy. You will need to search for and read (or at least skim) some information sources to know if your research question is going to be manageable.  Skip to Step 4 for some reading tips!

PIcking Your Topic IS Research (Video Tutorial)

North Carolina State University (NCSU) Libraries, 3:10

Narrowing a Topic with Mind Mapping (Video Tutorial 2 of 3)

University of West Florida, John C. Pace Library, 2:59

There are three videos in the Starting Your Research tutorial series (Research Questions, Narrowing a Topic with Mind Mapping, and Types of Information) with a quiz that covers all three videos. The quiz can be emailed to the instructor or instruction librarian.

This video explains how to narrow a topic through mind mapping and demonstrates how to approach this process. The video explains that planning is the most important step in the research process. The video also points to mind mapping tools on Credo and Institute for Human & Machine Cognition. It might be a good video to watch in a class session with a mind mapping exercise or to have on a LibGuide that the instructor of the course can use in his or her own classroom or assign for homework. To skip over the branding, start the video at 0:02, and stop it at 2:54.

  1. How do you narrow down your topic?
  2. What is mind mapping?
  3. What’s a perspective on your topic you hadn’t considered before?
  4. What perspective on your topic might you investigate?

Step 1 - Pause to Reflect

Step 1, Your Research Question, not only requires that you come up with a research questionNoun project icon showing a thought process from question to idea or topic that is narrow enough to explore for an undergraduate research paper, but it also requires that you consider what type of information you will need to find in order to answer your research question.

  1. Is your topic so large you could write a whole book or PhD dissertation on it? If so, you should try to narrow your topic down to something manageable within the time you have and the number of pages or words your instructor is requiring. Tips for narrowing your search can be found in step 3.
  2. Is your topic so specific that you can't find information about it? Go to step 3 to learn how to search more strategically and broaden your search out a bit.
  3. Do you need some basic facts, dates, or names of historical people or specific theories? If so, go on to step 2: Find Background Information.