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Step 1: Research Question

Knowing what your topic is, and your specific question related to that topic impacts the entire research process - everything from what resources you need to how you write your paper. So, how do you get started? 

1. Make sure you understand your assignment: Your assignment will have guidance such as:

  • The scope of your research question: how narrow or broad should your answer be?
  • The objective of your research question: are you asked to compare and contrast?  Critique? Evaluate?
  • The elements of style and format: Does your instructor have a preferred citation style? How long should the paper be? How should it be formatted? 

2. Brainstorm key ideas/topics you want to explore: before getting too far into searching for resources, brainstorm themes, ideas, or questions you want to explore. 

Key things to know

Video: Understanding Assignment Guidelines

Video: Research Question and Keywords


  • If you’re having trouble narrowing in on a specific enough question, try moving onto Step 2 and, once you understand the topic a bit more, revisit Step 1. 
  • Don't feel pressured to stick with the first idea you start researching. Often, your research idea changes over time as you learn more about your topic.