Skip to main content

The Research Process: Start with a Question

Where do ideas come from?

dragon game of thrones image  Let's say you know you're interested in a specific topic, for example... DRAGONS.

While dragons are awesome, there a lots of different ways to approach the idea of "dragons." Are you interested in dragons in literature? Or dragons as mythical creatures? Environments of Komodo dragons or other lizards? Or the uses of "dragon's blood" for healing?

Image from here.

Explore your topic

Somewhere in between your initial idea and settling on a research question, you'll need to do background research on how scholars in a particular subject area have discussed your topic. You may find background research in your textbook or class readings, academic books in the library's collection, or reference sources.

The databases below compile reference sources from a variety of disciplines, and they can be a great way to consider how your topic has been studied from different angles.

Transform an idea into a research question

After you have an initial project idea, you can think deeper about the idea by developing a "Topic + Question + Significance" sentence. This formula came from Kate Turabian's Student's Guide to Writing College Papers. Turabian notes that you can use it plan and test your question, but do not incorporate this sentence directly into your paper (p. 13):

TOPIC: I am working on the topic of __________,
QUESTION: because I want to find out __________,
SIGNIFICANCE: so that I can help others understand __________.

Remember: the shorter your final paper, the narrower your topic needs to be. Having trouble?

  • Which specific subset of the topic you can focus on? Specific people, places, or times?
  • Is there a cause and effect relationship you can explore?
  • Is there something about this topic that is not addressed in scholarship?

Turabian, Kate L. Student's Guide to Writing College Papers. 4th edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 2010.