Developing a Research Question

The Research Paper is essentially a persuasive essay in which you state a claim that you can support with authoritative, reliable sources. Your research paper is not a regurgitation of the information you found, summarizing ideas that are not your own. Research is about making informed decisions based on the credible sources you find.  

-- How do you come up with a proposition that you can support with other sources? - -

Start with a general subject. What subjects are you interested in exploring? 
Examples: social media, social justice, advertising, bullying, identity theft

Need ideas? 
Explore news and opinion articles
          CQ Researcher database for in-depth news reports
         Opposing Viewpoints in Context for opinion essays on controversial issues
       Debatabase Books from EBSCOhost eBook Collection
       FCL Library Books for  Checkout
       Room for Debate NY Times website

Get background information on the subject. Reading reference sources, such as subject-specific encyclopedias and handbooks will give you an overview of the subject that is fact-based.

Reference sources will help you:
    • Get a general overview of the subject
    • Guide your research by bringing up important issues
    • Narrow your focus
    • Discover keywords to help you search for relevant information
Reference sources at FC Library:
Database of searchable encyclopedias, handbooks, and other reference sources. 
Set Limit To: Reference

Ask questions about the subject.

What are the attitudes, beliefs, and values that need to be questioned, or challenged?

What are the problems and controversies? Can you look at these issues from a different angle or perspective to avoid rehashing the same old arguments?

What are the related causes, effects, or correlations? Do they pose problems or concerns that need to be addressed?

From which academic perspectives and approaches can you look at the issues? (e.g., psychological or health perspectives on obesity,  public policy or ethical issues concerning the death penalty)

Who is affected or involved? Think of narrowing focus by age group, gender, etc.    

Can you narrow your focus by place (e.g., public school, workplace, playground) or geographic location (e.g., local, state, national)? 

Who cares? Who is your potential audience? Do you intend to get them to do something differently? See something differently? 

For additional help asking questions, see: Prewriting (Invention) General Questions from the OWL at Purdue University

The Research Question
Now that you've thought about the various questions related to the subject, narrow your list down to a single question that will guide your research. 

Ask a question that requires you to make a decision, based on the information that you will gather during the research process. Look for questions that are argumentative rather than those with definitive answers.

Often, your answer to the research question will become the thesis statement of your paper. 

If your research question is :"Should recycling be mandatory?" 
Your answer/thesis statement might be: "Recycling should be mandatory."

As you develop your research question - and this will likely take some time, so let thoughts percolate - you may want to do a little preliminary research to find answers to those definitive questions.

Have obesity rates really increased over the years? 
    This question has an definitive answer, so it doesn't make an intriguing research question.     
    Finding the statistics to answer this question, however, may help you to then devise a 
    research question based on the answer.

   If you find that rates have in fact increased,  you might ask if a psychological approach to   
   combating obesity might be more effective than solely pushing exercise and diet.


Once you have developed your research question, it is often helpful to break down that question into specific, sub-questions that will help you address the main research question. This will help you to then determine with types of information you will need to find and where to go to find what you need.

If your research question is:
Should recycling be mandatory?
A couple of sub-questions might be:
 Sub-Questions                 What Types of Information Will Answer This? Where Will I Find These Source Types?
What is the impact of recycling at residences and small businesses? What about larger institutions and companies?

Research studies   
Government documents online (via search engine) and scholarly journal articles online (via library databases).
What has more impact: paper, glass, aluminum, plastic?
Research and/or statistical data            
Government documents online (via search engine) and scholarly journal articles online (via library databases).

Finding Sources - Click here for a list of different source types and where to find them.

 Image Credits
    (cc) "Any Guesses?" by Raymond Larose  on
    (cc) "Intersection" by Voxphoto on