Q. How do I turn my topic into a research question?

Usually researchers start with a broad topic then narrow down to a question. Here are some strategies for generating a good research question.

Create a concept map that consists of aspects and angles of your topic. Here is a video on Concept Mapping for a research paper. Think about what questions you have or that currently exist about your topic. For example, when researching the local food culture, you could ask:

  • Why do people buy local?
  • What specific food items are people more likely to buy local and why?
  • When are the economic aspects of buying local taken into consideration by the consumer? 
  • Where do people in certain socio-economic strata have access to local food?
  • Who is the consumer who buys local foods? 

Thinking about the 5 W’s – who, what, when, where, and why – can help you brainstorm different ways to narrow your question. Notice if you use general words in a brainstorm. For example, if you think about "when," are you brainstorming about the past, the present, or the future?

Reference sources help you find an angle on your topic, learn the language of the subject, and identify an interesting question.  

  • Reference books-the area near the Discover-e and Printing Assistance desks has all of the library's reference collection. Here you'll find print dictionaries, encyclopedies, and information on just about any topic.  
  • Reference databases such as Gale Virtual Reference Library and Oxford Reference Online. These are digital versions of the print encyclopedias, dictionaries, etc... that you might find in our reference collection. Here's a list of all the reference databases that the library subscribes to. 
  • The Opposing Viewpoints and CQ Researcher databases can also be good for background information on controversial topics. 
  • Check the Research Guides in your subject area to find reference resources recommended by librarians who work with students in your major/department. 

What Makes a Good Research Question? is a guide from Duke University that explains more about what you should consider when formulating your research question. 



  • Last Updated May 07, 2020
  • Views 245
  • Answered By Amanda Dinscore

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