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Graduate Students

Resources offered by the Hoffman Family Library to support Goodwin University graduate students.

Developing Your Research Question:

Before you can begin writing your research paper, you must first develop a thesis or research question. Essentially, the research question is the focus and scope of the study. They are the questions that you, the researcher, wish to answer. The structure of the research question depends on the researcher’s field of study and the common practices within that field. Therefore, they are not always in the form of a question. They can also exist in other forms, such as two or more corresponding questions, as problem statements, or hypotheses. A strong research question should be:


  • Based on curiosity and interest, as well as persistent work and investigation

  • Relevant to the field of study, in structure and content

  • Specific to an issue, but broad enough for inquiry and exploration of the topic

  • Without a preconceived (yes or no) answer

This can be broken down into 4 steps:

Step 1: Choose a Research Topic

This is the starting point for your research. You don't need to have a specific research question in mind at this point - just a general topic that you want to explore.

Try to choose something that is interesting to you, relevant to your assignment or significant to the field you belong to. 

Step 2: Find Background Information

Once you have a general topic in mind, it is important to refine your focus until you have a manageable topic. An idea like "I want to learn more about problems of censorship" lacks focus and will leave you frustrated.

Refining your topic can be difficult if you are not deeply familiar with your general area of interest. In order to help you focus your topic, it is important that you gather background information early on in your research.

Specialized dictionaries and encyclopedias can be valuable tools at this stage of your research.  They can give you an overview of the topic as a whole and introduce you to the specialized vocabulary related to the topic.

Step 3: Translate Your Interest into a Research Question

After gathering background information, one of the easiest ways to focus your topic is to frame it as a question. Research is a search for answers.

For example, after doing research on censorship, you discover a current controversy involving censorship of the Internet. So, looking at your background research, you have determined that this is the area on which you wish to focus.

There are a number of ways to focus this interest even further into a research question.

Some questions to ask include: 

Who is involved, what goals are being advanced, and how? | Are there interesting comparisons you can make based on changes or differences observed across different population groups, circumstances or viewpoints? | Is there a particular theoretical framework that offers a unique or compelling way to analyze the phenomena you wish to study?

Some common problems with research questions include:

The question is too broad to be manageable | The question is too narrow | The question cannot be answered.

Step 4: Further Modifying Your Topic

You will continue to modify your topic throughout the research process. How you modify your topic will depend upon:

Whether there is too much information | Whether there is too little information | Whether new issues arise during the research process