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SPAN 3010 Advanced Rhetoric and Composition: Start with a Question

A Course Guide to support research and inquiry for Spanish 3010 at the University of Colorado.

Step 1 of the Research Process: Your Research Question

Coming up with a research question is one of the most important steps in the research process, but can also be one of the most difficult. One challenge is in asking a new question or asking a question in a new and interesting way. Another challenge is choosing a question that can be answered in 4-6 pages, rather than picking a topic so large that it would take a PhD dissertation to answer. Use the guidance below to help you think about ways to narrow your topic down into a manageable research question.

Research Process: Developing Research Questions

What is 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 the ecotourism industry in Costa Rica impact the problem of dumped trash to improve the environment?

In this example, there are several answers to the questions above. The 'who' is the ecotourism industry. The 'what' includes the dumped trash and the environment. The 'where' is Costa Rica. The 'when,' '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).

Learn more about formulating research questions at the link below:

Mindmapping & Brainstorming

Use brainstorming to come up with key words that will help you expand your search. Put your topic in the center of a blank piece of paper, and draw connections to related topics, both more general and more specific, as well as synonyms for all of your terms.  A mindmap can often be a good way to start thinking of terms and subtopics:

Online tools for creating mind maps:

Research Strategies

At University Libraries, we have prepared information about doing research, including: 

  • Using your Library
  • Using Library Technology
  • Publishing & Author Rights
  • Finding Specific Formats
  • Research Process

Click the link below for guidance:

Research Process: Getting Started - Where to Get Ideas?

lightbulb idea icon from noun project

You can get ideas for research projects from:

  • Class readings
  • Your instructor
  • News and current events
  • Browsing background sources (aka "Reference" sources)
  • Following your curiosity

Click the link below for more information about the process of inquiry.

Research Process: Consider Types of Information

Newspaper icon from noun project

What's the difference between a popular magazine, a scholarly journal, and a trade publication? What makes a blog different from a news article? Why are there different genres of writing and formats of sources?

Click the link below to learn about the options you have when selecting sources and how and why different types of sources are created: