How to Write a Research Question for Research Papers

Bounce ideas off fellow students to help come up with questions.
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When writing a research paper, the process of getting started and developing a thesis can be overwhelming -- but if you formulate good research questions, the task becomes much easier. Research questions are part of the first step in writing a research paper. They help guide you to create a thesis with a specific focus that helps direct your writing. The research questions you create are the foundation for your paper, forming a roadmap that helps the paragraphs flow.

Pick a general topic for your paper if you haven't already been assigned one. Your topic should be broad so that you can narrow it down to examine a specific issue relating to it.

Write down a list of relevant questions that interest you about the topic. Being interested in what you write about makes writing the paper less tedious. If you're not very familiar with your general topic, do a little reading to get an idea of the issues that relate to it.

Narrow down your list of questions to topics that aren't too narrow or general, depending on the length requirement of your paper. You won't be able to find enough information on a question that is too specific, but a broad topic can yield too much information to work with.

Conduct a preliminary search for information relating to your question. Use search engines to get a general overview on how many resources are available to answer your question. If there seems to be a decent amount, search for articles and books on your school's academic database or library catalog to make sure that you have enough sources to work with.

Refine your research question to give it a clear, direct focus based on your preliminary research. For example, "How did the U.S. get involved in the Vietnam War?" is better than "What role did the U.S. play in the Vietnam War?" because it is focused on a specific part of a very broad issue. You'll have an easier time writing your paper if your research questions are specific, because you'll use your research question to guide you in writing a thesis for your paper.

Ask your teacher or professor to look over your research questions. He or she can be able to help you decide if you're heading in the right direction.

Diane Szulecki is a college student from New Jersey, majoring in journalism and art history. She is currently interning at a local magazine publishing company.