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Spark 1 (Mireles)

The Hidden Curriculum

Developing a Research Question Takes Research

Be curious

When the scope of your paper is too big, it's hard to dig through information and to write a paper with any depth. A research question, when not too broad or too narrow, helps guide and focus your paper. The question should also be one in which you haven't decided on a pre-determined answer. 

Brainstorm & do some pre-research

The research question isn't a question you make up at the top of your head. It's normal to start with a broad topic in mind. After doing some brainstorming about a topic, you will need to do some reading to find an angle to pursue, and, even then, your question may change as you find more information later.

Ask questions

From your pre-research, think about questions you might be able to ask regarding the topic. Most scholarly research examines fairly narrow topics and looks at relationships between concepts. One way to limit the scope of your topic is to ask who, what, where, when, why, and how questions.

Be flexible

It's okay to continue to tweak your question; the end result should be that you have answered the question you've laid out in the introduction, even if the introduction is the last paragraph you actually end up revising in your final paper.


Keeping your research question in mind, if you can answer TRUE to the statements below, your research question is probably workable.

  • It cannot simply be answered with a yes/no or a "list."
  • It has social significance/a problem associated with it.
  • There is reliable evidence available to address it.
  • It has appropriate scope.

5WH Method

  • Who are the major figures associated with the topic? (e.g., Karl Marx, Albert Einstein, students, kittens)
  • What is the description of the topic? What is happening?
  • Where does the topic operate? (e.g., Eastern Europe, basal ganglia, California)
  • When is the timeframe for this topic? This can often be combined with “where” (e.g., Jurassic Era, antebellum American South, 21st-century inner-city Chicago)
  • Why is this significant to others in the field? Why is this happening?
  • How can your topic be tested? How do you describe the relationship between your concepts?


Sleep habits

Who: college students

What: academic success

Most scholarly research examines fairly narrow topics and looks at relationships between concepts. For example, sleep habits is a broad topic, but looking at the relationship between sleep habits and academic success might be a more manageable topic.

My new question might be: "How do sleep habits affect the academic success of college students?"

But how did I get there? I did have to do some pre-research to find an angle, but the W/H method helped me brainstorm possibilities to investigate. After some quick searching, I saw that there were articles related to this topic. I had to try it out before committing to this investigation. I can possibly expand my review to include how to combat poor sleep patterns.

The overall research question serves as my guide.