Topics and Questions

Picking your topic can be the start of your research, but the act of research includes asking questions and seeking answers about your topic. Either the Guiding Question  or Question Formulation activity will help you turn your topic into an interesting research question.

Find Your Dissonance

Consider What You Know

Something has drawn your interest to the topic you have chosen. Maybe something about the topic either violates or exceeds the expectations you had of it. Or it challenges or appeals to values you hold. Or something about it surprises or puzzles you.

That is called dissonance, and is the start of most inquiry. You can harness your dissonance to develop a research question.

  1. Briefly describe your topic.
  2. Down the left half of a page, list the expectations, values and assumptions you had in regard to the topic.
  3. Down the right half, list what you have found or learned so far about the topic that clashes with each expectation, value or assumption.

Your Research Question

Write a question

With your preparation and your consideration of your dissonance in regard to your topic, you are ready to frame a question. Your question will be about your puzzlement or dissonance as much as it is about your topic, and will also identify or at least suggest what you need to know to begin to answer your dissonance.

Helps for questioning

Pay attention to your own interests and dissonance, and those that are most prominent and important to you. But avoid a question that you already know the answer to.

Don't limit yourself to just one question. You can try several questions at first and then focus on one, or combine a few into one to get started. As your research progresses, be open to revising and altering your question.

Think about whether your question is open-ended or closed-ended. A closed-ended question can be answered with yes, no, or just a few words. An open-ended question requires an extended statement.