The first step in completing a research paper
is understanding the purpose of your research. What are you trying to find out?
This is your research question. It can be difficult to formulate a good research question.
Imagine your research question like Goldilocks and the Three Bears. They should not be too
broad or too narrow, too simple or too complex. You want your research question to fit just
right. They should be clear, focused, and arguable. Let’s look at some examples.
A question like, “How should social networking sites address the harm they cause?” is unclear.
What harm? What social media? This question would be difficult to research. To make this
question clearer, we can be more specific: “What action should social networking sites
like Facebook and Twitter take to prevent and stop cyberbullying?” Now we have specific
social media site that we can investigate, and a clear problem: cyberbullying.
It is just as important to be able to pull a research question apart to select keywords.
Keywords are the most important parts of a research question, and what you’ll use to
search for information on a topic. Most research databases that you’ll be asked to use cannot
interpret a full question, so having keywords will make searching that much easier.
When examining a question, think about the most important, or key, parts of the question.
Words that are nouns are often a good place to start.
Next, consider each word and think about other words or phrases that might have similar meaning.
Sometimes, the words that we use in everyday conversation are not the same words that are
used in different academic conversations. Different words also have different connotations.
For example, we might use climate change, or global warming. For prison, we might also
say jail, penitentiary, or correctional facility.
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