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ENG1020 English Composition : Research resources: Creating Research Questions

Choose a strong topic

One of the most important things to keep in mind when choosing a topic is that you should enjoy your topic! This will make your work easier for you and won't tire you out so much. Two great ways to get started on your topic are brainstorming followed by prewriting.

Brainstorming involves jotting down ideas as they come to you. You may want to start with broad subjects that interest you, then start narrowing those subjects down into more specific topics from there. For instance, if you know that you like science, one of your brainstorming sessions might look something like "science > health science > disease prevention > bacterial disease prevention." If you know you like art, your brainstorming session might be "art > art history > Renaissance art > Renaissance painting > Renaissance painting techniques." Sometimes browsing online can help with this process.

Prewriting takes place after brainstorming. Hone in on one of the topics that you came up with during your brainstorming process and starting putting sentences together on paper. Sum up what you're going to write about in three or four sentences. See if this idea will breakdown into logical subtopics (you might want to do a little informal research online or in a textbook to help you out on this part). If your prewriting is successful and words seem to be flowing, then you are ready to start forming research questions!

Create a research question

A research question will guide you through your research and help you know exactly what to go looking for in databases, websites, and library catalogs. It's best to start by writing down what you know and what you don't know about your topic. Based on what you have written down, write out a question that can help you fill in what you don't know about your topic. Here are some examples of strong research questions and research questions that need to be refined.

Your research question needs to be clear and focused. Try phrasing it multiple ways: make it broader, make it narrower, change the wording, etc. It is best to ask for approval on your research question from your professor before you start breaking down your question into keywords to research.

Identifying keywords to search

Highlight words that stand out in your research question. Then start writing down synonyms (words with similar meanings) of those words and any other words or phrases you can think of that are similar or related to those words, including broader terms and narrower terms. When you are done, you will have created lists of words and phrases that can get you started in your search.

For instance, if one of the keywords in your research question is "smoking," then your keywords may look like this:







Smoke, smoker


Cigarettes, Cigars

Chewing tobacco

Lung cancer