A research question or thesis statement* (see box on left) is a declaration of purpose that indicates what it is that you intend to explore and discuss in your paper. Establishing a research question will assist you in two ways:
Most students start with a topic that is much too broad. Here are some ways you might narrow the focus of your topic:
When you have reached the point where you can articulate a brief, focused research question, you are ready to start your search for resources.
"Reading up on a topic and explaining it is not research" (Badke 21). But how many times have you done exactly that? No wonder you don't enjoy research! The problem lies in the way you see data—the information you gather as you conduct your research. Is finding a lot of data your ultimate goal? Or do you plan to use the data as a tool to answer a question or resolve an issue? By changing the way you view your data, you can avoid some of the typical research pitfalls AND embark on a research process that will be more interesting and more successful—and maybe even fun! (Okay, maybe I got a bit carried away there...)
What are some of the problems with simply studying up on something and then reporting it (the data-as-goal model)?
On the other hand, following the data-as-tool model can be more rewarding, because it:
One final warning: Always clear your topic and research question with your professor BEFORE you go further. Failing to do so may result in heartbreak and even disaster!
For more information on the data-as-tool model, see below.
When you ask a research question, the data you find becomes more than just an end in itself—it becomes the raw material needed to answer the question.
In the data-as-goal model, the data is never analyzed, and the result is nothing more than a report. The research question encourages analysis, which generates new information or new understanding (Badke 26-7).