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Writing 116 (Memmott): Pandemics & Research Ideas

Generate a Research Question

Forming a Research Question

The chart below is intended to help jump-start your thinking about a research question.  Though you may not use ideas from every column, you may wish to consider the following:

  1. Is there a pandemic I want to focus on?
  2. Do I want to consider how this pandemic specifically influenced or influences a a specific population, organization or group?
  3. Do I want to focus on a specific place or location?  Will I need to consider multiple locations or compare locations?
  4. What other issues or topics do I want to address that is related to the larger idea of pandemics?

Sample Research Questions

  • To what extent are masks effective against COVID-19 transmission?  To what extent have they been effective in other pandemics?
  • What are best practices for stimulating the economy during difficult economic times e.g. during a pandemic?
  • How are the elderly impacted when their face-to-face interactions with family and friends are limited?
  • What power should governments use to trace human movement in order to ensure public health and safety?
  • How might student learning be impacted if K-12 schools do not reopen in fall 2020?
Pandemic / Epidemic Population / Organization / Group Location Issue / Topic


Black Death/bubonic plague





Spanish flu

Asian flu

Hong Kong flu

Russian flu

swine flu (H1N1)

COVID-19/novel coronavirus

SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome)


Global opioid epidemic

Zoonotic pathogens & parasites,  transmitted from vertebrates to humans

pathogenic microorganisms


Health Industry


Health professionals

Business owners

Restaurant owners




Cancer patients

Family of those in nursing homes

Funeral directors




Essential workers

Travel industry / event planning industry

College students


Local government officials

Vulnerable populations


Black community

Those with diabetes or heart issues, underlying health conditions

Nursing homes

Colleges, schools


Recreational facilities

At home

Outdoor spaces (parks)




South Korea



International / Global

Another country

Health / Biology

  • Stress, anxiety, mental health, psychological health
  • Immune system
  • Anti-viral agents
  • Vaccines / vaccination
  • Transmission routes
  • Transmission rates
  • Telehealth
  • Level of care for other health concerns
  • Common comorbidity e.g. hypertension
  • herd immunitu

Economics & Management

  • Labor, unemployment, working from home
  • Childcare
  • Disaster risk management
  • Distribution networks e.g. supplies
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE) manufacturing, distribution, shortages
  • Public health infrastructure
  • Hospital infrastructure / preparedness
  • Lost income implications
  • Stimulus check implications; small business loans

Behavioral & Social Responses

  • Governing
  • Purchasing behaviors
  • Technology use
  • Recreational behavior
  • “digital sociality”
  • Communication methods
  • Social distancing
  • level of risk-taking

Protection & Preparation

  • Re-entry plans
  • Hospital practices
  • Contact tracing
  • Testing protocols
  • Cohorts
  • Handwashing
  • Safety of X activity (visiting the dentist)
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Masks
  • Flattening the curve
  • mitigation strategies


  • Social justice
  • Ethics of resource allocation (mask, ventilators) during shortages
  • Visitation restrictions
  • Monitoring / surveillance e.g. GPS tracking
  • Misinformation
  • Internet access (equity)
  • racial disparities


  • Teaching methods
  • Community building online
  • Best practices
  • Online vs. F2F

Research Tip: Use literature from the past to inform current day issues.  For instance, there may not be much current literature on how school closures caused by COVID-19 are impacting student learning; YET, there is probably much research on what promotes student learning and challenges associated with summer learning gaps, socioeconomic inequities, or different levels of parental engagement due to work obligations or other factors.

Original Research Articles - Samples

Elective Surgery
Brown TS, Bedard NA, Rojas EO, Anthony CA, Schwarzkopf R, Barnes CL, Stambough JB, Mears SC, Edwards PK, Nandi S, et al. 2020. The Effect of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Electively Scheduled Hip and Knee Arthroplasty Patients in the United States. The Journal of Arthroplasty. 35(7, Supplement):S49–S55. doi:10.1016/j.arth.2020.04.052.
Chu Q, Correa R, Henry TL, McGregor KA, Stoklosa H, Robinson L, Jha S, Annamalai A, Hsu BS, Gupta R, et al. 2020 May 8. Reallocating Ventilators During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Is it Ethical? Surgery. doi:10.1016/j.surg.2020.04.044. .
Davies A, Thompson K-A, Giri K, Kafatos G, Walker J, Bennett A. 2013. Testing the Efficacy of Homemade Masks: Would They Protect in an Influenza Pandemic? Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness. 7(4):413–418. doi:10.1017/dmp.2013.43. .
Mental Health
Earls F, Raviola GJ, Carlson M. 2008. Promoting Child and Adolescent Mental Health in the Context of the HIV/AIDS Pandemic with a Focus on Sub-Saharan Africa. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. 49(3):295–312. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.2007.01864.x.
Liu CH, Zhang E, Wong GTF, Hyun S, Hahm H “Chris.” 2020. Factors Associated with Depression, Anxiety, and PTSD Symptomatology During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Clinical Implications for U.S. Young Adult Mental Health. Psychiatry Research. 290:113172. doi:10.1016/j.psychres.2020.113172.
Nurses / Protection
Leigh L, Taylor C, Glassman T, Thompson A, Sheu J-J. 2020 May 6. A Cross-Sectional Examination on the Factors Related to Emergency Nurses’ Motivation to Protect Themselves Against an Ebola Infection. Journal of Emergency Nursing. doi:10.1016/j.jen.2020.05.002.
Social Distancing Motivations
Oosterhoff B, Palmer CA, Wilson J, Shook N. 2020 May 8. Adolescents’ Motivations to Engage in Social Distancing During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Associations With Mental and Social Health. Journal of Adolescent Health. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2020.05.004.
Antibody Persistence
Payne DC, Iblan I, Rha B, Alqasrawi S, Haddadin A, Al Nsour M, Alsanouri T, Ali SS, Harcourt J, Miao C, et al. 2016. Persistence of Antibodies against Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus. Emerging Infectious Diseases. 22(10):1824–1826. doi:10.3201/eid2210.160706.
Vaccination Acceptance
Raude J, Caille-Brillet A-L, Setbon M. 2010. The 2009 Pandemic H1N1 Influenza Vaccination in France: Who Accepted to Receive the Vaccine and Why? PLoS Currents. 2. doi:10.1371/currents.RRN1188.
Mortality Rates / Low & Middle Income
Roberton T, Carter ED, Chou VB, Stegmuller AR, Jackson BD, Tam Y, Sawadogo-Lewis T, Walker N. 2020. Early Estimates of the Indirect Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Maternal and Child Mortality in Low-Income and Middle-Income Countries: A Modelling Study. The Lancet Global Health. 8(7):e901–e908. doi:10.1016/S2214-109X(20)30229-1.
Growth of COVID-19 / Computer Science
Tuli Shreshth, Tuli Shikhar, Tuli R, Gill SS. 2020. Predicting the Growth and Trend of COVID-19 Pandemic Using Machine Learning and Cloud Computing. Internet of Things. 11:100222. doi:10.1016/j.iot.2020.100222.
3D Printing of PPE
Vordos N, Gkika DA, Maliaris G, Tilkeridis KE, Antoniou A, Bandekas DV, Ch. Mitropoulos A. 2020. How 3D Printing and Social Media Tackles the PPE Shortage During Covid – 19 Pandemic. Safety Science. 130:104870. doi:10.1016/j.ssci.2020.104870.