A research question is useful for guiding the rest of your research process, but it can change as you learn more about your topic. Start with a question you are curious about or a topic that your professor assigns to you. Think about what really interests you about that issue. Ask the following questions to help articulate your research question:
Now that you have thought about these questions, you should try to write out your research question and include as many of these details as possible.
Example: How does Italian cinema provide commentary on contemporary social issues?
In this example, there are several answers to the questions above. The 'what' includes social issues, and you can come up with more specific examples. The 'when' is contemporary. The 'who' could be the film directors or actors involved in Italian cinema. The 'why,' and 'how' are not explicitly stated in this question, but that's OK. You can also think about 'how' the scholars gathered information, and that will be useful to you when you evaluate the information you find (more on that in the Evaluate page).
Reference works like encyclopedias and atlases contain background information that help inform you so that you're ready to do foreground research. What's the difference? Typically scholars do not cite background information because the information is already well known in their field or easy to find. Foreground research is what I call the stuff that you cite - the journal articles, books, and other sources you use to build your arguments and inform your projects and papers.
Explore these databases below to learn more about the context (the people, places, eras, themes) of your research topic. Taking time to do this before diving into the databases can help you search more efficiently later on.
Tip! Keep your eyes peeled for new keywords!
As you gather background information about your topic, your research question may change and that’s okay. Background information should inform you of what’s already known about your topic so that you can ask questions that truly require research to answer. Sometimes background information can be called “reference information.” In fact, there’s a whole section of Norlin Library that has reference materials.
One place you can start is Wikipedia, but be sure to check other sources including library subscription encyclopedias (see links in the "Reference Databases" box). You can use Wikipedia to:
The answers to the questions above will help us identify keywords to use for searching in the next steps. Note the keywords in bold. Start brainstorming some synonyms, closely related words and ideas, as well as antonyms for your keywords. For example, a movie can be called a film or a pellicola. You might also search using the keywords cinema or documentario. These terms may not be perfect synonyms, but their meanings overlap in certain contexts and can both be useful as keywords in your searches. Keep in mind, you can brainstorm synonyms in multiple languages.
Keyword 1 = Synonym 1 OR Synonym 2 OR Synonym 3
Language = Lingua OR Linguaggio OR Dialetto OR Dialect
Jargon = Gergo OR Colloquialism OR Vernacular
You can get ideas for research projects from:
Click the link below for more information about the process of inquiry.
The Library Website has a page dedicated to Research Strategies where you can explore research tips, strategies, and suggestions form your librarians. Below are links to two of our Research Strategies pages to get you started:
Books often contain general overviews of a topic. Search OneSearch or Chinook to find books on your topic.
The books in this section are only a small sample of what we have available through University Libraries. Use the OneSearch and/or Chinook to find more.
Consider the scope of your research question at this point. Have you done enough background research to explore your topic further? What dates, figures, themes, or historical events do you still need to know about?
Before going onto the next step, consider how much research it will take to answer your question. If it's a lot, you might want to narrow your focus. If, however, your question is very specific, you may have to think bigger.