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RUSS 2222 Sports and the Cold War (Siergiejczyk): Developing Research Questions

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. Take time to read background information and 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 (ex: female athletes)?  
  • 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. 

Here is a helpful table for refining your topic: 

Starting point Questions to Ask Interests Sources to Use



Who? Can you identify a person or group of people that are involved in your research topic?

I am interested in female athletes and political commentators. Background and reference sources (newspaper articles, encyclopedia, online media)

Even narrower


What? What is the key idea of your topic? What are the sub-topics?

I am interested in how political commentators present gender roles of female athletes.  Scholarly journal articles, scholarly books and ebooks

Narrow and 

specific topic

When? Is time an important factor in your topic?  I am interested in the period of the Early Cold War Olympic Games and onward (1952 - present). Scholarly journal articles, scholarly books, newspaper articles, theses and dissertations

Even more narrow

and specific topic

Where? Is geography important to your research topic?

Can you find information on a region? Do you need information about one specific place?

Russia, United States Scholarly journal articles, conference papers, scholarly books, book reviews

Potential research question: "How have political commentators in the United States exploited and shaped the perception of gender roles of Russian female athletes from 1952 to present?"

Learn more about formulating research questions at the link below: