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Use this guide to learn about the research process and plan your research project.

Welcome to the Research Planning Guide

Step 4: Create the Research Question/Thesis Statement

A research question or thesis statement 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:

  1. It will help differentiate relevant from irrelevant resources by defining the parameters of your topic, and
  2. It will eventually give structure and direction to your essay when you are ready to begin writing.

Most students start with a topic that is too broad.  Here are some ways you might narrow the focus of your topic:

  • Limit to a specific time period
  • Limit to a specific country or region
  • Limit to a specific age group, people group, or gender
  • Compare two points on a scale (times, events, people, discoveries, works)
  • Identify an issue or controversy relating to some aspect of your topic (more on that, below)

When you have reached the point where you can articulate a focused research question, you are ready to start your search for resources.

Data as Goal VS Data as Tool

"Reading up on a topic and explaining it is not research" (Badke 21).  The process of summarizing data is called “data-as-goal” and it has problems such as:

  • Superficial, without any depth or analysis
  • Summarizes past information, with no effort to advance knowledge or understanding

On the other hand, following the “data-as-tool” model can be more rewarding, because it:

  • Relies on critical thinking with room for your own ideas
  • Focuses on a narrow aspect—a part of the topic instead of the whole
  • Encourages analysis rather than simple description
  • Is deep instead of shallow

One final warning: Always approve your topic and research question with your professor BEFORE you go further.