For you to successfully finish a research project, it is important to choose a research topic that is relevant to your field of study and piques your curiosity. The flip side is that curiosity can take you down long and winding paths, so you also need to consider scope in how to effectively cover the topic in the space that you have available. If there's an idea or concept you've recently learned that's stuck with you, that might be a good place to start!
You may not know right away what your research question is - that's okay! Start out with a broad topic, and see what information is out there through cursory background research. This will help you explore possibilities and narrow your topic to something manageable. Do a few quick searches in OneSearch@IU or in other relevant sources. See what other researchers have already written to help narrow your focus.
Once you have a sense of how other researchers are talking about the topics you’re interested, narrow down your topic by asking the 5 Ws
Broad topic: Native American representations in museums
Narrowed topic: Museum efforts to adhere to NAGPRA
Adapted from: University of Michigan. (2023 Finding and Exploring your topic. Retrieved from https://guides.lib.umich.edu/c.php?g=283095&p=1886086
So, you have done some background research and narrowed down your topic. Now what? Start to turn that topic into a series of questions that you will attempt to answer the course of your research.
Keep in mind that you will probably end up changing and adjusting the question(s) you have as you gather more information and synthesize it in your writing. However, having a clear line of inquiry can help you maintain a sense of your direction, which will then in turn help you evaluate sources and identify relevant information throughout your research process.
These are the questions that comes from a genuine curiosity about your topic. When narrowing down your topic, you got a good sense of the Who, What, When, and Where of things. Now it’s time to consider
Use the following to determine if any of the questions you generated would be appropriate and workable for your assignment.
Once you have developed your research question, consider how you will attempt to answer or address it.
Adapted from: George Mason University Writing Center. (2018). How to write a research question. Retrieved from https://writingcenter.gmu.edu/writing-resources/research-based-writing/how-to-write-a-research-question
A good research question is clear, focused, and has an appropriate level of complexity. Developing a strong question is a process, so you will likely refine your question as you continue to research and to develop your ideas.
Unclear: Why are social networking sites harmful?
Clear: How are online users experiencing or addressing privacy issues on such social networking sites as Facebook and TikTok?
Unfocused: What is the effect on the environment from global warming?
Focused: How is glacial melting affecting penguins in Antarctica?
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?
Reference sources like dictionaries and encylopedias provide general information about various subjects. They also include definitions that may help you break down your topic and understand it better. Sources includes in these entries can be springboards for more in-depth research.
A note on citation: Reference sources are generally not cited since they usually consist of common knowledge (e.g. who was the first United States President). But if you're unsure whether to cite something it's best to do so. Specific pieces of information and direct quotes should always be cited.
Reference sources are a great place to begin your research. They can help you:
From here, you can narrow your search topic and look at more specialized sources.