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SOCC34: Migrations & Transnationalisms

Fall 2023 - Dr. Patricia Landolt

What is a Research Question?

A research question is the starting point for your research. It serves as a guide to help you determine what information to focus on as you start to gather resources for your assignment.

A research question investigates an aspect of a broad, general topic that you've covered in your course. It is a specific question that you are trying to answer as you perform research on the topic. Choose something that you are want to learn more about.

Remember that for your assignment, you must specify the context of your research question. The context will correspond to your chosen research module. For more guidance about context, see the "Developing a Research Proposal" page of this guide.

Steps to Formulate a Research Question

Step 1: Choose a General Research Topic

To get started, choose a general research topic. A topic is a broad subject area. It can be something you learned about in a course lecture, the focus of one of your readings, a discussion from class, or any other content area related to your course. Refer to your course syllabus for ideas.

Research topics should be:

  • Of genuine interest to you
  • Relevant to the assignment
  • Significant enough to warrant further research

Step 2: Perform Background Research

Once you've selected a general topic related to your course, you need to narrow it down so that your research will be manageable. If your topic is too broad, you'll find an overwhelming number of results and your writing will lack focus.

Narrowing down your topic can be difficult if you're not very familiar with the research that's been performed on the subject, so it's important to find background information early in the research process. Important sources of background information include textbooks, encyclopedias, or handbooks.

For example, check out the entry for migration in Oxford Bibliographies for a short introduction to the topic of migration and a list of recommended books, journals, and articles that provides overviews or discussions of specific topics related to migration. For more information on transnationalism, see the websites of the Transnational Studies Initiative or the State of Nationalism, or review the entry on Changing Contexts: From Multiculturalism to Transnationalism in the Encyclopedia of Migration.

As you find background information, consider the following questions:

  • Is there an aspect of the topic that you're particularly interested in?
  • What questions do you have about the topic?
  • What are the key or emerging issues in this subject area?
  • What are the problems that researchers in this area are trying to solve?

Step 3: Translate Your Interest or Issue into a Research Question

The next step in the process is to write down a question about a specific aspect of your general topic, inspired by the background research you performed. It should be a question that you or researchers in the field would like answered, or be related to an issue or problem that provokes interest.

The following short video (2:57 min) from Georgian College Library provides some tips about how you can narrow down a generic topic into a focused research question.

The research question should lead you to a conclusion, answer, or recommendation that you can justify based on evidence you find by searching the literature on your topic. Your research question should be complex enough that it can't be answered by a simple yes or no. 

Activity: Mind Mapping

Are you struggling to come up with ideas for your research question? Creating a mind map or concept map can help. This short video (2:52 min) from UCLA Libraries provides an introduction to mind mapping for the purpose of identifying and refining your research topic and generating questions.

Step 4: Evaluate Your Research Question

Once you have a research question, begin looking for relevant materials like journal articles to answer it. As you perform your research, continue to evaluate your question to make sure it's not too broad or too narrow. Consider whether there is too little or too much information, then adjust your research question accordingly. 

Research Question Resources