Library Research: A Step-By-Step Guide

Use this guide to learn more about the research process

Developing a research question

Narrowing Your Research Question

Which narrow, specific angle of your topic will you decide to research?

Brainstorm answers to these questions below.  You may not be able to answer all questions - that's ok!  You can research the answers later. 

  • What do you already know about the topic? 
  • Do you want to deepen your understanding of a particular aspect?
  • What don't you know about the topic?
    • I wonder how___________?
    • I wonder why __________ ?
    • I wonder if _____________ ?
  • WHO is involved?  Who are the stakeholders?  
  • WHAT are the key issues facing the various stakeholders?
  • WHEN is this happening?  Is it an emerging issue or dying trend?
  • WHERE is this happening? Globally?  A specific region?
  • WHY is this happening?  What are the causes?
  • HOW should the issue be addressed?

Developing a research question

Which narrow, specific angle of your topic will you decide to research?

Brainstorm answers to these questions below.  You may not be able to answer all questions - that's ok!  You can research the answers later. 

  • What do you already know about the topic? 
  • Do you want to deepen your understanding of a particular aspect?
  • What don't you know know about the topic?
    • I wonder how___________?
    • I wonder why __________ ?
    • I wonder if _____________ ?
  • WHO is involved?  Who are the stakeholders?  
  • WHAT are the key issues facing the various stakeholders?
  • WHEN is this happening?  Is it an emerging issue or dying trend?
  • WHERE is this happening? Globally?  A specific region?
  • WHY is this happening?  What are the causes?
  • HOW should the issue be addressed?

Example

Example of how to develop a research question:

My topic is immigration.  Here is what I know...

I know that the United States is a country of immigrants.  I remember from history class that at certain times the government denied immigration to  certain ethnic groups.  Also, I think after bombings of September 11, 2001 that immigration to the U.S. became harder.  Recently I have seen protests on T.V. about providing social services like health care for migrants and undocumented immigrants - some people are for it and some people are against it.  I don't know much about the controversy of how the U.S. controls its borders.  I wonder why people risk coming to the U.S. illegally and what their lives are like.  I also wonder how other countries deal with their own immigration issues.

Possible research questions about this topic...
  • How should the U.S. control its borders?  Which strategy is most effective?
  • Should undocumented workers be given access to health care?
  • What has been the experience of Asian immigrants in U.S. history?
  • How has immigration to the U.S. changed as a result of the attacks on September 11, 2001?
  • Should immigrants without legal documentation who serve in the military be granted citizenship?
  • What are the pros and cons to providing bilingual education for immigrant children?
  • What types of exploitation do immigrants suffer?  What are solutions to this problem?
  • Do migrants help or hurt the U.S. economy? How?
  • When people say "immigration reform," what changes are they proposing?  Will they be effective?
  • What are the difficulties for immigrants adjusting to life in the U.S. and what is the best way to maintain their cultural identity?
  • How are other countries' immigration issues similar to or different from those of the U.S?

Image Source: "Statue of Liberty" by Ian Turk is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Develop and map your topic

Keep this checklist with you to help you ask questions that will organize your research.

Download the “Develop and Map your Topic” brainstorm chart below