Answered By: Claire Sewell Last Updated: Feb 24, 2016 Views: 1997
To carry out successful research you will need to move from a general topic or subject area to a specific question that you want to find out about. The research question summarises what your research will investigate.
1. It can be helpful to do some background reading to give you some general knowledge on the topic and help you find ways of narrowing it down. Three useful places to start are:
- Oxford Reference Online: Contains dictioanaries, encyclopaedia, short subject overviews and timelines
- Very Short Introductions: Short and basic introductions to hundreds of topics
- Various online encyclopaedia: Hundreds of encyclopaedia on a wide variety of topics
2. Narrow your topic. Now think about what specific part of the topic you are interested in. You could use a concept map to group ideas together in clusters. Pick one cluster or part of one. It should focus on one issue only. In some cases, you may make two or more research questions to cover a complex topic.
3. List some questions. Think about the questions that you could ask about this specific topic area and list them, i.e. What do you want to find out? It could be useful to use the '5 Ws' - who, what, when, where, why to consider the different ways that you could ask a specific question about your topic. Questions that ask how and why are more likely to invite deeper research and lead to more interesting answers because they require you to make an argument.
4. Evaluate your questions. It is important to have a clear, specific and complex enough question in order to effectively focus your research. Once you complete your list of questions, choose a usable one that is neither too broad nor too narrow and which you can adequately research with the tools available to you.
5. Choose one of these questions to be your main research question. Remember that this question should reflect the goal of your research in its words and phrasing.
Research is a process, and your research question(s) may change as you learn more about your topic. You may have to revise your initial question if there is too much or not enough information to be found.