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SOCI 441: Inequality & Social Justice Capstone: Research Tips

Developing a Research Question

1. Select a topic that genuinely interests you. Look at course readings, class notes, Google, Wikipedia, CQ Researcher or Credo Reference for initial ideas.

2. Consider the scope of your topic. If it is too narrow, you might have trouble finding enough information. If it is too broad, you might be overwhelmed with information.

  • Think about your assignment prompt while determining the scope of your topic. It is important to consider the size of the assignment and the length of time you have to complete it when thinking about scope. 

3. Turn your focused topic into a research question. Know that your research question may change depending on what sorts of resources you find. While you should have a topic or question in mind, allow the sources you find, along with your interests, to help shape and refine your topic further.

Questions to guide the development of your research question:

  • Is it focused enough to be covered in my paper or project?
  • Is there enough literature available on this topic?
  • What is the question that my research is answering?
  • Am I genuinely interested in this topic?
  • Is my topic going to be new and interesting to my audience?

Keywords

Brainstorming keywords for your topic will help you refine your topic, find the most information about your topic and save you time by helping you search databases in a more efficient and systematic way.

(Why? Different authors will refer to the same concept in different ways. Having a comprehensive list of keywords to search will help you find more information about your topic!)

1.  Pick out the main ideas in your research question. For example, the main ideas in this research question are in bold: "How is climate change affecting migratory animals in Montana?" 

2. Take each of your main ideas and brainstorm as many synonyms, related words, acronyms, initialisms and spelling variants as you can. For example, for "climate change":

  • Climate crisis
  • Climate emergency 
  • Global heating
  • Global warming
  • Greenhouse effect

3. Do this for each of your main ideas. Searching all the variants you can come up with will give you a broader selection of relevant information. Consider making a chart to keep track of which combinations of keywords you have searched for.

4. Know that there is no such thing as a perfect search. Searching is a process, so having a list of potential keywords will help you begin your research. You’ll find that different combinations of keywords will bring up different results in different databases. You can still learn something from every search you perform, so know that this list of keywords can continue to grow throughout your research process. 

  • You can also use what you learn from searching to redefine your research topic or question.

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