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Student Research Guide

Developing Research Questions

Once you have selected an initial topic, the next step is to develop your research question. To begin:

  • Write down what you already know or don't know about the topic.
  • Using the information you wrote down, develop questions you'd like to answer when doing your research. A good research question is neither too broad or too narrow. Try to avoid questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no.
  • For example, if you are interested in learning more about standardized testing in public schools, you might choose the following questions:
    • Are standardized tests too stressful for teachers? 
      Not a good choice since determining a simple yes or no would be quite difficult!
    • How well do standardized tests measure good teaching in New Paltz Middle School classes.
      Too narrow--it may be diffcult to locate articles and studies on this topic!

    • How effectively can standardized tests predict academic achievement in high school students? 
      Good question!

Too much information - Narrow the topic

If your research question seems overwhelming and too broad, consider these questions:

  • Is there a specific time period you want to cover?
  • Is there a geographic region or country on which you would like to focus?
  • Is there a particular aspect of this topic that interests you? For example, historical or social influence, psychological angles, specific groups or individuals involved in the topic.

    • Original Topic: What are the effects of Global warming
      Narrower Topic: How will climate change impact sea levels and the coastal United States?

Not enough information - Broaden the topic

If your question is so specific that you can't find sources, consider the following:

  • Who are the key players in this topic?
  • What are the larger issues often discussed along with this topic?

    • Original Topic: Does cartoon viewing cause violent behaviors in children under the age of five?
      Broader Topic:  What are the negative effects of television viewing on children and adolescents?