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Topic and Research Question Brainstorm

Page history last edited by Zane Porter 8 years, 4 months ago

Assignment for this Module:


Read the information below, watch the video, and/or read the infographic. As you read the information, think about your own research question. As a group of three, you will write a research essay covering a specific topic and answering a specific research question. Upload a picture, scan, or link of your brainstorm and the research question that follows. Make sure that the research question is well thought out before submitting it here.


What is a Research Question?


A research question guides and centers your research. It should be clear, focused, and synthesize multiple sources to present your unique argument. Even if your instructor has given you a specific assignment, the research question should ideally be something that you are interested in or care about. Be careful to avoid the “all-about” paper and questions that can be answered in a few factual statements.



1. For instance, the following question is too broad and does not define the segments of the analysis:


Why did the chicken cross the road?

(The question does not address which chicken or which road.)


2. Similarly, the following question could be answered by a hypothetical Internet search:


How many chickens crossed Broad Street in Durham, NC, on February 6, 2014?

(Ostensibly, this question could be answered in one sentence and does not leave room for analysis. It could, however, become data for a larger argument.)


3. A more precise question might be the following:


What are some of the environmental factors that occurred in Durham, NC between January and February 2014 that would cause chickens to cross Broad Street?

(This question can lead to the author taking a stand on which factors are significant, and allows the writer to argue to what degree the results are beneficial or detrimental.)


How Do You Formulate A Good Research Question?


Choose a general topic of interest, and conduct preliminary research on this topic in current periodicals and journals to see what research has already been done. This will help determine what kinds of questions the topic generates.


Once you have conducted preliminary research, consider: Who is the audience? Is it an academic essay, or will it be read by a more general public? Once you have conducted preliminary research, start asking open-ended “How?” “What?” and Why?” questions. Then evaluate possible responses to those questions.




Say, for instance, you want to focus on social networking sites. After reading current research, you want to examine to what degree social networking sites are harmful. The Writing Center at George Mason University provides the following examples and explanations:


Possible Question: Why are social networking sites harmful? An evaluation of this question reveals that the question is unclear: it does not specify which social networking sites or state what harm is being caused. Moreover, this question takes as a given that this “harm” exists. A clearer question would be the following:


Revised Question: How are online users experiencing or addressing privacy issues on such social networking sites as Facebook and Twitter? This version not only specifies the sites (Facebook and Twitter), but also the type of harm (privacy issues) and who is harmed (online users).


While a good research question allows the writer to take an arguable position, it DOES NOT leave room for ambiguity.


Checklist of Potential Research Questions in the Humanities (from the Vanderbilt University Writing Center):


1) Is the research question something I/others care about? Is it arguable?

2) Is the research question a new spin on an old idea, or does it solve a problem?

3) Is it too broad or too narrow?

4) Is the research question researchable within the given time frame and location?

5) What information is needed?


* Information modified from: http://twp.duke.edu/uploads/media_items/research-questions.original.pdf

Video Source: https://cirt.gcu.edu/research/developmentresources/tutorials/question

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