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I need to turn my topic into a research question


Usually researchers start out with a broad topic then narrow down to a question. It's important to do this before you do too much searching or writing so that you do not waste time. Here are some strategies for generating a good research question.

Create a concept map of your topic that consists of all of the possible aspects and angles of your topic. Here is a great video on concept mapping for a research paper.

Think about what questions you have or that currently exist about your topic. For example, when researching the local food culture, you could ask

  • "Why do people buy local?"

  • "What specific food items are people more likely to buy local and why?"

  • "What are the economic aspects of buying local? Is it cheaper?

  • "Do people in all socio-economic strata have access to local food?"

Thinking about the 5 W’s – who, what, when, where, and why – can help you brainstorm different ways you might narrow your question to be more specific. Notice if you are using general words when you brainstorm. For example, if you're thinking about "when," are you brainstorming "the past," "the present," or "the future"? If this is the case, it's a sure sign that you need more background information.

Doing some background reading now can help you find a great research question. Reference sources can help you find an angle on your topic and identify an interesting question. If you are focusing on a particular academic discipline like psychology, education, or business, then it is worth taking time to do background reading in subject-specific encyclopedias and reference sources in your field. Try searching in the library catalog on your subject AND encyclopedia (for example, impressionists AND encyclopedia).