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Savvy Scholar Workshops

A guide to library research workshops for WSU undergraduate students, graduate students, teaching assistants and instructors.

Developing Research Questions

A research project is more than collecting data and explaining what you've read. A college-level research project or paper has five general goals (Turabian ch. 2):

  1. Ask a question worth answering
  2. Find an answer that you can support with good reasons
  3. Find reliable evidence to support your reasons
  4. Draft a report that makes a good case for your answer
  5. Revise that draft until readers will think you met the first four goals

Watch the video below for an explanation for why a research question will help to guide your research.

Research is not research until you have focused it a round a solid research question that addresses a problem or issue (Badke ch. 2). Go through this Prezi to learn how to identify a good research question.

Here are a few tips to help you find a topic that is appropriate for your class assignment.

  • Are you limited to certain types of sources?
  • In what class is this assigned? Should the topic be related to the subject matter of the class? What topics can be chosen?
  • Is this an informative or persuasive paper?
  • Which style or format should be used for the bibliography page?
  • Is anything besides the final paper required? (This may include an outline, rough draft, or photocopies)

How do you find an interesting topic? READ! LISTEN!

  • Browse for topics in articles and books that you read for fun or that relate to your course work.
  • Surf the web in your favorite general newspapers. HuffPost, NYT and Wichita Eagle are popular choices.
  • Talk to your classmates or your instructor.
  • Go to the WSU Writing Center at 601 Lindquist Hall or call them at 316-978-3173.
  • Browse library databases that post current events and hot news topics, like Newsbank and Opposing Viewpoints.  Reference sources Credo and Gale Virtual Reference Library are also great choices.

Ask yourself the following questions about your topic to make sure you've picked a topic that will keep both yourself and your audience engaged. If you can answer yes to all the questions, you're ready to create a research question so you can search for information. Source

  • Am I interested in the topic?
  • Will I enjoy researching this topic?
  • Will I enjoy talking about this topic and sharing my information with my audience?
  • Will my audience be interested in my topic?
  • Am I passionate about this topic?


The perfect topic for a college-level research paper will require you as the researcher to evaluate and reflect about the issues revolving around this topic. It will require your readers also to reflect and think deeper about his or her previous assumptions about the topic. Here is a basic topic:

  • Quilting

This is a good start, but needs to be developed. You as a researcher should not be attempting to write an encyclopedia article, and this topic will not require any evaluation. 

Here is a better topic:

  • Quilting among those of Native American descent

Now we can take this topic to the next level and develop it into a research question.

A concept map (sometimes called knowledge maps or mind maps) is a great way to organize your research topic and brainstorm keywords for searching. It's also a good way to visually lay out how the different parts of your topic fit together. 

The main idea (your topic) is at the center of the concept map, with the subpoints and keywords surrounding it. 
Use lines and arrows to show connections between the various aspects of your topic. 
Since most topics/research questions usually have multiple aspects, create a separate "bubble" for each one, then brainstorm synonyms or alternate keywords.

The following are some online tools that will allow you create a concept map for your topic:



We all search for information probably almost everyday. Without thinking too hard about it, we ask a question and find an answer (or find out there is no answer). Sometimes these questions even lead to more questions. This is the normal research process, and students sometimes get frustrated writing research papers because they do not understand how normal and common the whole process is.

Turning your research topic into a research question will provide you with a reason to search for information.

  • What purpose do quilts have in modern Native American culture?
  • How did Native Americans get started on quilting in the mid-ninteenth century?
  • Why are quilts used during burial services and other ceremonies related to death in many Native American tribes?

You would want to pick one research question on which to focus your paper or research project. Sometimes it is necessary to learn more about your topic to create a good research question. Encyclopedias such as Encyclopedia Britannica and Wikipedia are great for background information. The reference databases Credo and Gale Virtual Reference Library are also great choices.

SmartSearch is a good place to research a topic as you develop it into a research questions. One search wil locate print books, ebooks, journal articles, digital items, and more - all related to your topic. SmartSearch is a product from EBSCOhost, but the tool searches all of the Unveristy Libraries' subscription content. For a link to Smartsearch as well as information on how to use this search engine, go to

To get even more specific with your searching, you will want to use a disciplinary database such as ERIC (for education) or PsycINFO (for psychology). Using these databases individually will allow you to use advanced search features to find relevant articles. Use the "Subject" menu on the Databases A-Z list to find the best databases in your topic's discipline.

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