Selecting a Research Topic & Formulating a Research Question


Selecting a Research Topic & Formulating a Research Question
In this tutorial you’ll learn how to select a research topic and formulate a research question.
Sometimes it’s difficult to select a topic for an assignment or paper.
If you don’t have a topic in mind you may need to think of a general topic and then narrow your topic.
It’s important to select a topic that interests you!
Two resources you can use to select a general topic and find background information on your topic are CQ Researcher and Credo Reference.
Both of these are available from the library web site at
CQ Researcher has a list of hot topics, let’s you browse topic by general subject, and has a selection of pro/con reports.
Credo Reference may be used to find general topics, but it works best if you have a general topic in mind and want to narrow down your topic.
Once you have a general topic, you’ll probably need to narrow it down.
If your topic is too general you’ll be overwhelmed by information.
For example, let’s say I want to write a paper on gun control.
Gun control is a general topic.
There are so many aspects of gun control; the topic needs to be narrowed down.
One way to narrow your topic is to use the Who, What, Where, When, Why method.
Start asking yourself questions about the topic and brainstorm answers.
Who does gun control affect?
Adults? Children? Gun owners? Potential gun owners? Owners of gun sales and shops?
What are the implications of gun control?
Impacts second amendment rights.
May or may not have an effect on school shootings.
May or may not reduce crime.
May or may not reduce suicide.
Where is gun control an issue?
Select a specific place or setting, such as:
Alaska, Chicago, the United States or United Kingdom, Schools, Colleges, Homes, Shopping Malls.
When, in time, do I want to write about gun control?
One hundred years ago? Twenty? Now? Or a historical comparison?
Why is this important?
Gun control is a hot debate in the United States especially because of mass shootings.
After brainstorming your topic, pick out specific concepts you want to write about – this will help you narrow your topic.
For example, I want to write about gun control and its effect on school shootings in the United States.
So, I write it as a question.
Once you come up with a narrowed topic, turn it into a research question.
My topic is gun control in the United States and how it effects school shootings.
My research question is: Does gun control in the United States have an effect on school shootings?
It’s possible to have a topic that is too narrow.
For example, if I limited my topic to gun control in Fairbanks, Alaska and its effect on school shootings I may not be able to find enough information about this topic, thus the topic is too narrow and I would have to broaden it.
Remember, it’s important that your topic is not too general or too narrow.
To narrow your topic, ask yourself Who? What? Where? When? Why?
Once you have several concepts related to your topic, write them down and turn your narrowed topic into a research question.
The End.


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