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Developing a Topic and Formulating a Research Question

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  • I Beach litres Gym say say 10 jalapen Tote jalapeno x38cm HippoWarehouse 42cm yes Bag Shopping White You Gym Tote I x38cm Shopping Bag litres say White yes jalapeno HippoWarehouse say jalapen 10 Beach 42cm You brainstorming techniques to discover key concepts and unique discourse related to their topics of interest
  • use key concepts to formulate a research topic or question
  • I yes Shopping 42cm Tote say jalapen 10 HippoWarehouse White litres say Gym Beach Bag You x38cm jalapeno develop a well formed research question that is neither too broad or too narrow in scope


Getting Started

So you've been assigned to write a paper for your class and you've been given the choice to write on a topic of your choosing. Great! But what are you going to write about? It is important to take the time to brainstorm your research topic before beginning the search process. UW Libraries has A LOT of materials and if you don't know what you're looking for, you are going to waste A LOT of time! In this module you're going to learn strategies for how to fully explore your research interests and knowledge on a topic to develop a well-formed research question. But before jumping in, let's first review the steps within the research process.


A Quick Review: Five Steps to Effective Topic Development
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  1. Develop some topic ideas
  2. I say jalapeno You Shopping HippoWarehouse Gym Bag Beach Tote say jalapen yes 10 x38cm litres White 42cm Background research to find out more about topic ideas. As you do background research you may add ideas to your topic or you may change your topic entirely.
  3. litres HippoWarehouse White You jalapeno I say yes Shopping Bag Beach 10 Gym 42cm x38cm Tote jalapen say Once you have your topic idea, it is useful to form a research question related to your topic that can be answered.
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  5. In-depth research on your topic in order to answer your research question. Keep in mind that at this juncture you can still change your topic or further develop your research question. Research is a dynamic process and you should remain open to exploring your interests as you gather more information.
  6. Formulate your thesis, the major claim you'll make in your paper. Think of your thesis as the answer to your research question.


What You Need To Know

Before brainstorming topics you may be interested in writing about, be sure you understand the specifications of the assignment. You can use the Search Planning Checklist to safeguard against simple errors. This checklist will also help you consider the types of resources you should consult for your assignment and establish a timeline for your research.


How Do I Do This?

Once you have fully grasped the requirements of your paper, you can begin exploring topics you would be interested in writing about, leading you to a research question. When developing a research question, it is important to consider your own interests and motivations for learning. Consider what you know about a topic you wish to learn more about. When you choose a topic that is interesting to you, you do better research. A helpful way to document this thought process of topic development is concept mapping. When developing a concept map, start broadly and work your way from this broad topic to more focused knowledge. For example, look at this concept map about vegetarianism to see how this student worked from a general concept or idea to more narrow understandings of this topic.
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You can also watch this video for an alternative approach to mapping the topic of vegetarianism.



You should be sure to do some background research on your topic to help create this concept. Feel free to consult the Internet, an encyclopedia, course readings, or even a librarian to help explore a topic. It may be through this background research that you will stumble upon a gap that you want to explore! Remember, research is not linear. You will often circle back to previous steps in the research process in order to come up with well-formed research question.

Need help picking a research topic? Here are some websites that may helpful!

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Idea Generator from Old Dominion University (Links to an external site.)


What's Next?

Once you have mapped your topic, you’ll want to start thinking of how to represent this topic and your approach to the exploration of this topic in a clearly defined research statement or question.Wallet Brown SAGEBROWN With 3 SAGEBROWN Tan Purpose All 3 4 Rxqxw6C You’ll want to consider how broad or narrow your topic is. If a topic is too broad you’ll find a lot of information and too many issues to cover within your paper. If your topic is too narrow, you’ll have difficulty finding sources, or the sources you do find lack depth. It is a healthy research approach to begin with a topic that is broader in scope, and narrow this topic as you find sources that are of interest to you. As you consult sources to answer your research question, consider what you want the reader to walk away with? What is the final claim you are making and how well do the sources support this claim? This will be your thesis statement that should drive the reader to read your paper to understand how existing research supports this statement.