A research question is a…
…question around which you center your research. You should ask a question about an issue that you are genuinely curious and/or passionate about.
Research questions help writers focus their research by providing a path through the research and writing process. The specificity of a well-developed research question helps writers avoid the “all-about” paper and work toward supporting a specific, arguable thesis.
Unclear: Why are social networking sites harmful?
Clear: How are online users experiencing or addressing privacy issues on such social networking sites as MySpace and Facebook?
The unclear version of this question doesn’t specify which social networking sites or suggest what kind of harm the sites are causing. It also assumes that this “harm” is proven and/or accepted. The clearer version specifies sites (MySpace and Facebook), the type of harm (privacy issues), and whom the issue is harming (users). A strong research question should never leave room for ambiguity or interpretation.
Unfocused: What is the effect on the environment from global warming?
Focused: How is glacial melting affecting penguins in the Arctic Circle?
The unfocused research question is so broad that it couldn’t be adequately answered in a book-length piece, let alone a standard college-level paper. The focused version narrows down to a specific cause (glacial melting), a specific place (the Arctic Circle), and a specific group that is affected (penguins). When in doubt, make a research question as narrow and focused as possible.
Too simple: How are doctors addressing diabetes in the U.S.?
Appropriately complex: What are common traits of those suffering from diabetes in America, and how can these commonalities be used to aid the medical community in prevention of the disease?
The simple version of this question can be looked up online and answered in a few factual sentences; it leaves no room for analysis. The more complex version is written in two parts; it is thought provoking and requires both significant investigation and evaluation from the writer. As a general rule of thumb, if a quick Google search can answer a research question, it’s likely not very effective.
Retrieved online from the George Mason University Writing Center
Beginning a research project with only a very broad topic?
Books have some valuable components that tend to be overlooked in the online environment that emphasizes journal articles. They can help you narrow your topic into a specific question by giving you background information and by synthesizing many journal articles. No one ever said that you had to read a book from cover-to-cover to extract information from it!
After narrowing to a specific question, search for articles which will fill in with more current and particularized information.
|Overall||In-depth, broad examination of a topic||Original results of a specific research question or experiment|
|Analysis||Deep analysis, broad historical perspective, synthesis of numerous research results and opinions||Single focus without much historical overview or context|
|Useful Segments||TOC, introduction, individual chapters, bibliography||Less specific segments, more a single snapshot|
|Publication Cycle||Lag time in publication means not as current||More current|
An evaluative report of the current state of the literature in a specific area or topic, not just a descriptive list of the material available, or a set of summaries.
Essentially the same search processes you would use for gathering information on any paper, but you need to be sure to include the most current research - so JSTOR might just not cut it. The most efficient way is to look for authoritative summaries by scholars, bibliographical essays, to boost you in your search.