After you choose a general topic for research, you need to gain a working knowledge of your topic. A working knowledge means you can talk about your topic for a minute without repeating yourself. It is only after gaining this knowledge that you should begin thinking about your research question. To get a working knowledge, you should:
1. Consult authoritative encyclopedias. This does not include Wikipedia. Since Wikipedia articles can be edited frequently, the information you retrieve from one today and include in a paper might not be there in a few weeks when your professor reads your paper. Instead, use more reliable sources such as our list of online encyclopedias.
2. Browse journal articles. You can browse through our online journals in your particular subject area to see what others are researching. This can also help give you ideas for how to approach your own research.
3. Browse databases. Our library has 5 databases designed for browsing.
3. Browse the physical collection. If you are able, browse the appropriate physical collection of the library. If you have found one useful print resource, look through the shelves close to that source. You might find another. You can also try browsing through bound volumes of journals or our other collections.
After doing your preliminary research, you are better able to compose a quality research question.
1. Choose an aspect of your topic you can work with, and remember you cannot cover absolutely everything about the topic in one paper.
2. Identify controversies or questions surrounding that aspect of the topic. Remember that research uses information to solve a problem or answer a question.
3. Try not to make the question more complex than it needs to be. The best research questions are simple, but they require a substantial amount of analysis to answer.
What can go wrong?
1. You ask a question that compiles information on a topic, which means it reads like a reference article.
2. There is no problem to solve.
3. Your question isn't focused or defined. It leaves your reader wondering: what is your question?
4. You try to answer more than one question in one research paper.
5. Your question is open-ended, leading to many conclusions instead of just one.
6. There is simply no way to answer your question, given the current state of knowledge.
Badke, W.B. (2008). Research strategies: Finding your way through the information fog. iUniverse, Inc.