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ITAL 4600 Once Upon a Time in Italy (Magnanini): 1. Start

Start with a Research Question

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:

  • Who? - Who is my research question about? Does it involve a person or group of people (like a company or organization)? Are there certain demographic criteria that I'm interested in?
  • What? - What is the main focus of my research question? Are there subtopics or other issues surrounding it? 
  • When? - Is time a factor in my research question? Is there a historical period that is involved, or am I looking for up-to-date information? 
  • Where? - Is geography a factor in my research question? Does place matter for this topic? Can I think more broadly about the location, like region or continent, instead of city or state? Would research from another similar location be relevant to help answer my research question?   
  • Why? - Why is this topic interesting? Why will my readers be interested in this? Is there a broader context or theory that this question involves? Do I need background information about this topic? 
  • How? - How can I go about finding the information I need to answer the research question? Is the information freely available online or in a library subscription resource like a database? Do I need books, journal articles, or something else?

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 can modern versions of fairy tales provide guidance for navigating complex social issues?

In this example, there are several answers to the questions above. The 'what' includes fairy tales and social issues. The 'when' is modern or contemporary. The 'who' could be your peers, American society, or beyond. 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).


Starting to Think about Keywords

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, fairy tales can be called folk tales or fables. These two 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