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Research Process :: Step by Step

Once you have selected a topic, 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.

How to Formulate Effective Research Questions

Example: Endangered Species Act

What do or don't I know about the Endangered Species Act (ESA)?

I know it's a law that protects animals, and their habitats, that are in danger of extinction. I believe the law only protects habitats that are within the U.S. boundaries. I know at one point bald eagles and grizzly bears were on the list, but I thought they had been removed. I know there has been a lot of controversy recently about adding polar bears to the list. I don't know what it takes for an animal to be removed from the list and I don't know what the penalties are for violating this act.

Research Questions

  • What was the Endangered Species Act (ESA) designed to protect -- animals only or ecosystems too?
  • What animals/habitats outside of the United States boundaries are covered by the act?
  • What other countries have legislation to protect animals/habitats?
  • What animals are currently on the endangered species list?
  • How does an animal get added/removed from the list?
  • What penalities are imposed on those who violate the act?

Final Question Complexity

The complexity of your final research question will often impact the length and depth of your research. For example, "What factors lead to deforestation?" is less complex than a question like "How do current environmental policies enable or encourage companies to misuse natural resources?". The first question is great for a shorter, more straightforward research project, while the second allows for a significant amount of information to be covered. Be considerate of your assignment parameters while you generate a research question!

These questions will help to transform your topic into a research question.

  • What is your topic?

  • What issues/concepts related to your topic do you need to understand better to develop a research question for your proposal?

  • What scholarly literature have you found related to these issues and concepts?

  • What gaps do you see in the scholarly literature related to your topic?

  • How can your research proposal address a gap in the scholarly literature?

  • Write a research question that, when answered, will help you to address that gap in the scholarly literature.

 See the example below and use the blank worksheet to narrow the scope of your literature review: