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First Year Seminar - Research Strategies

The Question is the Answer


Here are two excellent research questions that have already been answered by researchers.


What makes them great questions is that the correct answer is not obvious.


Take a guess at what the correct answer might be.



Clicker Poll!

1.  How smart was a tyrannosaurus rex?  Intelligent as a:

A. mouse (e.q. around 0.5)

B. dog (e.q. 1.0 to 1.2)

C. chimpanzee (e.q. 2.2 to 2.5)

D. dolphin (e.q. 4.0 to 4.5)

* encephalization quotient (e.q.) is a measure of the relative size of the brain compared to the size of the body.  Humans are at 7.5.

Clicker Poll!

2.  Are Mayan hieroglyphs:

A. pictograms (symbols that represent a concept or word)

B. words produced by letters in an alphabet (similar to ours)


C. chimpanzee (e.q. 2.2 to 2.5)

Researchers put fossilized T-Rex skulls into a CAT scan to image cavities in the skull.  The brain cavity is not spherical like ours but instead is a long tube.  When they calculated the e.q. it was 2.0 to 2.4 - just barely below a chimp.



B. words produced by letters in an alphabet (similar to ours)

  • English has 44 sounds represented by 26 written symbols.  Some letters are combined to make up the difference ('ch' or 'ng').
  • The various languages spoken by the Maya have roughly the same number of sounds as English.  But there are many more symbols than sounds (by a wide margin).  One sound may have half a dozen symbols to represent it with context determining which one is used.
  • The scholarly debate that finally answered this question took decades.



A Fantastic Research Question is:

  • completely original (contributes something new to human knowledge)
  • verifiable (others can prove what you are saying is true and nobody can disprove it)
  • can easily generate new questions for further investigation (or even open up new fields of study).

A Good Research Question is:

  • interesting to you.
  • a question for which you don't already know the answer.
  • not something that is, or should be, obvious.
  • something that requires you to make use of genuine scholarship and real evidence.

You might consult information resources to come up with ideas. 
We focus on that in option 3 (Topical Guides).

This option assumes that you have already decided what you want to research.


What you decide to focus on will determine which resources are best.