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ENG W240 Community Service Writing

Develop a Topic & Research Question: Page Contents

Use background research to help define and narrow your topic.  The boxes on this page will help you with your research focus:

  • Narrowing a Topic
  • From Topic to Research Question
  • Sample Research Questions
  • Worksheet: Question->Search Strategy

Sample Research Questions


Unclear: Why are social networking sites harmful?

Clear: How are online users experiencing or addressing privacy issues on such social networking sites as MySpace and Facebook?


Unfocused: What is the effect on the environment from global warming?

Focused: How is glacial melting affecting penguins in Antarctica?

Simple vs Complex

Too simple: How are doctors addressing diabetes in the U.S.?

Appropriately Complex:  What are common traits of those suffering from diabetes in America, and how can these commonalities be used to aid the medical community in prevention of the disease?

Adapted from: George Mason University Writing Center. (2008). How to write a research question. Retrieved from

Question->Search Strategy

With this worksheet:

  • Break your Research Question into Core Concepts.
  • Construct a Search Strategy

(See the Search Tips page for more on search techniques.) 

Narrowing a Topic

You may not know right away what your research question is. To explore possibilities and narrow you topic, gathering background information on the broader topic. 

Brainstorm topics.

Explore various topics. Some sources to help generate ideas:  

  • current events and services discussed in newspapers, magazines, or publications from leisure/recreation organizations 
  • scholarly research interests, often found in academic databases (see Find Articles)

Gather background information.

Do a few quick searches in OneSearch@IU or in other relevant sources. 
See what’s already been done to help narrow your focus. 

  • What subtopics relate to the broader topic? 
  • What questions do these sources raise?
  • What piques your interest? What might you like to say about the topic? 

Consider your audience.

Who would be interested in this issue? For whom are you writing? 

Adapted from: George Mason University Writing Center. (2008). How to write a research question. Retrieved from

From Topic to Research Question

After you have chosen a topic and gathered background information, add focus with a research question. 

Explore questions.

  • Ask open-ended “how” and “why” questions about your general topic.
  • Consider the “so what?” of your topic. Why does this topic matter to you? Why should it matter to others?
  • Reflect on the questions you have considered. Identify one or two questions you find engaging and which could be explored further through research.

Determine and evaluate your research question.

  • Articulate what aspect of the more general topic you will explore.
  • Is your research question clear?
  • Is your research question focused? 
    (Research questions must be specific enough to be well covered in the space available.)
  • Is your research question complex? 
    (Research questions should not be answerable with a simple “yes” or “no”. They should require research and analysis.)
  • To further evaluate your question, see these "Sample Research Questions."  


After you’ve come up with a question, consider the path your answer might take.

  • If you are making an argument, what will you say?
  • Why does your argument matter?
  • What kinds of sources will you need in order to support your argument?
  • How might others challenge your argument?

Adapted from: George Mason University Writing Center. (2008). How to write a research question. Retrieved from