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Your Research Question

Tips and strategies to develop a research question that matches your course assignment.

General Considerations

Selecting your own research question can seem like the hardest part of a course assignment.

Let's first look at the requirements laid out by your instructor and then work on defining an appropriate research question.

Remember: You are not alone. You can always contact your instructor or your Merritt College librarians for guidance.

Your Assignment

Review the assignment requirements. What did your instructor tell you about this assignment?
Ask Yourself Example answers
What are the deadlines? Due date for a draft, an outline, the final paper?
What type of paper?

Descriptive/Informative = detail key aspects of the topic, teach others about it

Argumentative/Opinion = take a stand on a topic and justify it with evidence

Compare/Contrast = describe similarities and differences between topics or concepts

What types of sources? Scholarly sources, popular sources, news, videos, ...
What is the scope of the project? 5 page paper, 5 minute speech, ...
Within these requirements, you want to choose a topic that interests you. When you care about the topic you will invest more time and effort in your research and become more creative and convincing in your writing.

Brainstorm Aspects of Your Topic

Learn more about your broad topic

Doing background research to explore your initial topic can help you to find create a focused research question

To start you want to learn more about your broad topic. You are learning about many different aspects of your broad topic.

Reading to develop a research question is different from reading to answer it. Focus on the main ideas and arguments

While you're doing your background research, don't be surprised if your topic changes in unexpected ways - you're discovering more about your topic, and you're making choices based on the new information you find. If your topic changes, that's OK!

You can get an overview about your broad topic in


Focus your Research Question

You want your research question to be
  • clear and focused (what exactly do you want to find out about?)
  • not too general (you will not be able to come to a meaningful conclusion)
  • not too narrow (you may not find sufficient evidence)
To narrow your original topic idea you may want to ask the five W's
  • When? (Focus on a specific time period)
  • Where? (Focus on a specific location or setting)
  • Who? (Focus on the people who are affected or the people who have influence)
  • What? (Focus on a specific aspect or issue within your broad topic)
  • Why? (Focus on the relevance or importance of your exploration)