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Classics: Getting Started

Developing a Research Question

First Steps

Before you start finding research you need to think of your topic, your research question and your plan for finding information. You can to this by answering these questions:

    • What do I know?
    • What do I want to know?
    • How will I find this information?

Define your topic (What do I know?)

    • You need to know what information you need. Start with defining your topic.  Your topic should be specific and clearly define the concepts and ideas you would like to present in your project. When your topic is too broad, you get too many results and it is hard to find the information you need.  If your topic is too narrow, you may be constricted my information available to you.  Your topic should be a happy medium.
    • If you are having trouble thinking of a topic or narrowing down your topic, start by making a list of things you are interested in (within the parameters of your assignment).  Think of things you would like to know more about and would enjoy researching. From there, you should be able to narrow down your topic.  If you still have difficulty narrowing your topic, ask a librarian or your instructor for help.

Research Question (What do I want to know?)

    • From defining your topic you need to turn that topic into a research question. This requires you to identify the key terms and/or concepts that are relevant to your topic.
    • Your research question should be asked in a way that it can be answered with verifiable facts.
      • Example of an ineffective question: What are some problems with social media?
      • Example of an effective question: How do online users of social networking sites, like Facebook and Twitter, address privacy issues?
    • Use: Who? What? When? Where? Why? and How? to break your question down even further. 
      •   For example: What privacy issues are there? When has there been large online privacy situation?  Why is privacy important online? How can people protect their privacy online? 
    • Learn more about "What Makes a Good Research Question" from Duke University.

Plan (How will I find this information?)

    • Finding the best information for you requires a plan. Think about where you are going to get the information to answer your questions. The best research incorporates information gathered from many, various and credible sources including (but not limited to):
        • Books
        • Journals (Scholarly, Popular and Trade)
        • Newspapers
        • Websites
        • Reference resources
        • Videos and other multimedia


Parts adapted from Solomon, Amy, Gwenn Wilson, and Terry Taylor. 100% Information Literacy Success. Boston: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning, 2012. Print.

Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Sources

Organizing Your Research Infographic

Research Paper - Organizing Your Notes

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