Getting StartedWriteHereWriteNowWriteOn

Asking the right research questions

by Samantha Bronkar

If you receive a research paper assignment and are

–  not sure where to start and/or

–  unfamiliar with the topic,

you can start by asking questions!

Here are a few I find helpful to this process:

Why ask a question instead of going right for the thesis?

  • A research question provides clarity for your searches.
  • Unlike a research topic, a research question lets you to explore what you are interested in even if you don’t know what you are looking for.
  • Asking a question takes the pressure off because you don’t need to know the answers right away.
  • It comes from your interest.


How do I develop a research question?

  • Consider the scope of your paper: Is it a two-page reflection? or a ten-page analysis?
  • Consider research: Do I need to look at outside sources to answer this question? If so, how many?
  • Consider breadth: Are these questions too broad or too narrow?


How do I know if questions are too broad?

  • The question addresses too many sub-topics at once.
  • You cannot answer the question fully, even after several research attempts.
  • e., What happened during the Middle Ages?


How do I know if questions are too narrow?

  • The question only addresses one date, location, person, idea.
  • You can answer the question with a simple search.
  • e., When did the Harlem Renaissance occur?


Here is an example:

If your assignment is to write a four to six-page paper on some aspect of William Wordsworth’s poetry, you could ask:

  1. How did William Wordsworth’s relationship with his sister, Dorothy, influence his writing?
  2. How did the [social or political] context of Wordsworth’s time influence his writing?
  3. How did the location of Wordsworth’s home influence his writing?


Key concepts to remember:

Consider these ideas the next time you ask a question:

  • Scope
  • Research
  • Breadth


Samantha Bronkar is a senior on the softball team and will be participating in the England Abroad in fall 2017.   

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