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FYSM 1000 Astronauts and Innovators (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 an organization or type of occupation)? 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, state, or province? 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, film footage, 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
Narrower topic Who? Can you identify a person or group of people that are involved in your research topic?   Background and reference sources (newspaper articles, encyclopedia, online media)
Even narrower topic What? What is the key idea of your topic? What are the sub-topics?   Scholarly journal articles, scholarly books and eBooks
Narrow and specific topic When? Is time an important factor in your topic?    Scholarly journal articles, scholarly books, newspaper articles, theses and dissertations
Even more narrow and specific topic

Where? Is geography important to your research topic? Do I need to focus on a specific city, state, province or can I think broadly about the location (region, continent, country)?



  Scholarly journal articles, conference papers, scholarly books, book reviews, newspaper articles, encyclopedia entries

Learn more about formulating research questions at the link below: