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Spanish Language, Literature, and Culture: 1. Empezar

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:

Narrow your Focus by Refining your Topic

Thinking about Keywords & Synonyms

Your research question will help us identify keywords to use for searching in the next steps. Start brainstorming some synonyms, closely related words and ideas, as well as antonyms for your keywords. For example, if we use the topic of ecotourism and trash in Costa Rica, we can start to come up with some keywords like trash, basura, waste, refuse, rubbish, etc. These terms may not be perfect synonyms, but their meanings overlap and can both be useful as keywords in your searches. Keep in mind, you should brainstorm synonyms in multiple languages.

Keyword 1 = Synonym 1  OR Synonym 2 OR Synonym 3


Trash = Waste OR Refuse OR Garbage OR Basura OR Desechos OR Desperdicios

Ecotourism = Green Travel OR Environmental Tourism OR Ecological Tourism OR Sustainable Tourism OR Ecoturismo

Use an online thesaurus to search for synonyms or related words. Also, be sure to think about whether there are broader or narrower terms for your words. In the example above, tourism would be the broader term, and might lead you to other relevant studies about the impact of tourism on the waste management industry. Here are some suggested sites: