Q. How do I develop a good research question or paper topic?
Research is an ongoing process, and developing a good research question is an important part of any research paper. Research questions inform what, how, and where you will look for support for the thesis of your paper.
Consider a major purchase you have made, such as a car, phone, computer, or residence. Prior to buying such a thing, you very likely asked yourself questions such as, "what is the best price for this?," "what do other people say about it?," or "what people know the most about this and are they trustworthy?" Those kinds of questions, and the manner in which those questions evolved for you as you got nearer to making your purchase, are quite similar to the kinds, and trajectories, of questions you will ask during your research process.
- Know the background of your topic. Background research will inform you about past and emerging issues, controversies, and scholarship for a given topic. Research databases for background information can be accessed via FCC library's Research Database list.
- Determine what is significant about your topic. As you do background research, note the elements of your topic about which you want, or need, to know more. What are the gaps in existing research? What questions have gone unanswered? What can your unique point of view and experience bring to this topic?
- Formalize your topic and question. Once you have a firm notion of where your research is taking you, try writing your research question in a form such as
"I'm researching _____ to investigate _______ in order to understand ____".
For example: "I'm researching drug laws to investigate mass incarceration in order to understand systematic oppression"
The librarians at FCC's Bess and Frank Gladhill Learning Commons are always happy to help students with their research needs. Connect with us face to face, via phone at (301) 846-2444, or through our Ask a Librarian system.
The video below offers more advice about developing research questions.