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Library DIY

Navigating UWG library resources and research

From topic to research question

Usually researchers start out with a broad topic before narrowing it down to a question. These strategies can help you move through that process.

Concept Mapping

Create a visual map of your topic that shows different aspects of the topic.

Who, What, When, Where, and Why (the 5 W’s)

Think about questions related to your topic. These kinds of questions can help you brainstorm ways you might narrow your question. For example, when researching the local food culture, you might consider:
    •    Why do people buy local?
    •    What specific food items are people more likely to buy local and why?
    •    What are the economic aspects of buying local? Is it cheaper?
    •    Do people in all socio-economic strata have access to local food?

Background Reading

Reference sources can help you find an angle on your topic and identify a research question. Resources like Wikipedia, encyclopedias, and dictionaries can provide helpful overviews of a topic and help you identify key search terms. Databases like Oxford Reference Online can also help.

More on Finding Background Sources

Note: Because Wikipedia is created through crowd-sourcing, evaluate Wikipedia pages by considering, for example, their references, length, and history (see the 'View history' and 'Talk' tabs).

Qualities of an Effective Research Question

(Adapted from George Mason University Writing Center's How to Write a Research Question, 2008)
A well-developed research question is clear, focused, and appropriately complex.


Unclear: Why are social networking sites harmful?
Clearer: How are online users experiencing or addressing privacy issues on such social networking sites as MySpace and Facebook?


Too broad: What are the global warming's environmental effects?
More focused: How is glacial melting affecting penguins in Antarctica?


Too simple: How are doctors addressing diabetes in the U.S.?
Appropriately complex: What are common traits of those suffering from diabetes in America, and how can these commonalities be used to aid the medical community in prevention of the disease?


Your thesis is your proposed answer to you research question. When you are developing your thesis, your research question and the information you find will help you. Be sure, however, to consider varying approaches to your question before determining your thesis. When you are developing your thesis, you should start by brainstorming some topic ideas. For example, let's use "organic food," "labeling," and "food safety." Next, you should conduct background research on these topics and ideas. Then, based on your initial research, you should narrow your topic. For example, we can narrow our original topic ideas to "The influence of business on organic food labeling." Once you have a narrower topic, you can conduct more in-depth research. From that in-depth research you can develop a working thesis. A working thesis is a proposed initial answer to your research question. It may or may not be your final thesis. From our example, our working thesis is "Differing business interests invested in organic foods have greatly influenced food labeling laws in the United States." Once you have your working thesis, continue with your research and make any modifications if necessary to develop your final thesis. After you have developed a research question and done your research, you'll want to analyze your findings and draw conclusions. These conclusions will lead you to the final version of your thesis.