Research Topics & Research Questions

19 Sep

Last week, we discussed the differences between Popular and Scholarly Sources, and the week before that, we reviewed the advantages and disadvantages to using Google, the Library, and Online Databases. We know when doing research we want to find sources on our topic that are scholarly and convenient. That said, before we can start doing research and pouring through sources, we need to establish a topic worthy of researching and a research question.

Why is it important to develop a research question? 

When you are developing a research question, you are narrowing the focus of your research project by selecting some element of the topic that intrigues you or interests you. When we begin a research project, we tend to select a broad or general topic initially, and developing a research question allows us the ability to narrow our focus. This will ultimately help us when we begin doing research, and it gives us a more manageable approach to completing our assignment. For example, when brainstorming ideas, you might decide that you are interested in “nursing strategies in the ER”. This is a very broad topic and selecting such a broad topic with no further consideration can cause problems for you as you begin completing the research project.

So, how do you choose a research topic and develop a research question? 

The above video outlines six steps for selecting a research topic, including:

  • Step 1: Understand the Assignment
  • Step 2: Brainstorm
  • Step 3: Refine and Narrow
  • Step 4: Discuss Your Ideas
  • Step 5: Research and Read
  • Step 6: Develop a Research Question

Now, let’s assume that you have completed Steps 1-5. You have reviewed your assignment description, you have brainstormed possibly ideas and then narrowed them down to a topic or area that you are interested in. You have discussed and researched your ideas as much as possible, and you are ready to develop your research question.

How do you develop a research question? 

To develop a strong research question, keep in mind your overall topic, any research that you have already done in that topic area, and your interest in the topic. For example, let’s say we are going with the general topic of “nursing strategies in the ER”. This is still a very broad topic and we need a more general focus, so we need to develop a strong research question. Considering our research on the topic and our personal interest in the topic can help us to develop a list of possible research questions. For example:

  • How have nursing strategies in the ER changed over the last 10 years?
  • Which nursing strategy is most important in the ER today, and why?
  • What role does [specific strategy] play in the providing of quality ER care?

These are just a few examples, but each question provides a specific focus for the research assignment. Then, when doing research and gathering scholarly or popular sources, you can select sources that align with your specific research question, and focus your research project on the answering of this question.

One of the downfalls of research projects is taking on a topic that is too large. This often leads students to using broad search terms when selecting sources, which can in turn lead to a broad research project. This approach can be particularly challenging because it is harder to decide what should and should not be included in the final project, and it can be difficult to figure out how to fit all of the different sources together. Developing a strong research question and using it throughout the researching and writing process will give you a clearer focus and allow you to more easily avoid some of these pitfalls.

Of course, if you are ever stuck or have questions, please feel free to visit the Writing Center!


One Response to “Research Topics & Research Questions”


  1. Resources for Getting Started | The Christ College Writing Center - March 1, 2016

    […] Research Topics & Research Questions […]

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