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Prof. E. Werner - ENG 102 - Writing Project: Refining the Research Question

Questions to Guide Your Research

From what academic discipline is your topic (it can be interdisciplinary)? i.e., Media Studies, Linguistics, Political Science, Public Health, Psychology, etc.  Are there leading thinkers in this field? i.e. Henry Louis Gates, Jr.; Ta Nehesi Coates, Alain de Botton, Malcolm Gladwell,  Barbara Ehrenreich, Deborah Tannen, Brene Brown 
Is there a "code" or professional vocabulary around your subject or around the academic discipline in which your subject is often studied? i.e. "social stratification"; "intersectionality"; "case study"
Are there any "case incidents" that would be heavily covered by the media that illustrate your idea. e.g. Colin Kaepernick; Stoneman Douglas High
Who is studying this subject? Are there key studies? Does the field have cornerstone thinkers? e.g., "The marshmallow test"; ACEs research; "Nurses Study"
Is there a conflict or a controversy? If so, what is it how much of a part will it play in your discussion? e.g. evidence of Russian "fake news"
What articles/books (or video documentaries) have there been on this subject in the past several years? (SEE Library Catalog and Films on Demand Collections)
Can you find a reputable piece of journalism that gives you an up-to-date overview on your topic. Some source that will give you leads to the questions above? HINT: Places to look include The New York Times (Weekend and Longer Pieces); Scientific American; The Atlantic; The New Yorker; Christian Science Monitor; Radio Interviews

Developing Research Questions

Types of Research Questions

Academic communication should include an introduction in which your topic and thesis is clearly defined, an analysis of your topic, and a clear conclusion.

Start out by introducing your topic, communicating to your audience why the topic is important, and providing enough background information to allow your audience to understand the analysis that is about to take place. Your introduction is also the logical place to embed your thesis.

Examples of defining/introductory questions:

What is _________________?

o Why is ____________ an important issue?

o What background information is necessary to understand ______________?

o What are the different types of ____________?

All academic research demands analysis. Some projects lend themselves well to a cause/effect structure ("What caused hip-hop to emerge and what are some of the effects its had on American culture?), while other assignments require a pro/con format ("What are the positive aspects of stem cell research? What are some of the negative implications?). Some projects can easily conform to both modes.

Examples of analytical/body questions:

What are the causes of ________________?

o What are the effects of ________________?

o What are the “pro” arguments about_______________?

o What are the “con” arguments about ______________?

o How can I refute arguments about ______________?

o What is being done about ______________?

Your conclusion allows you to demonstrate to your instructor that you have synthesized the information you found and clearly answered your thesis question (informative projects) or effectively proven your thesis statement (persuasive/argumentative assignments).

Examples of concluding questions:

o What do I think should be done about ________________?

Based on my research what do I think about ________________ and why

From Claim to Research Question


Sandberg's idea of "leaning in" fails to recognize barriers for middle and working class women. 

Despite valid criticism, movements like "Lean In" effect progress toward gender inequality in the corporate realm. 


The Millennial generation displays a sense of entitlement in the workplace and are skeptical of paying their dues the way previous generations have

The Millennial generation's different communication, work habits, and relationships styles have been unfairly mis-read as narcissistic and entitled.  

Key terms:

Millennial - post-1980, Gen Y

Narcissism - Personality, traits, self-esteem

Search Phrase

Millennial OR Gen Y AND Narcissism 

Young adults OR Gen Y AND Work style 

Millennial AND Personality Traits

Millennial AND demographic study OR Research

Millennial AND case studies


Millennial* Gen* Narciss* Self()Esteem



Use AND in a search to:

  • narrow your results
  • tell the database that ALL search terms must be present in the resulting records
  • example: cloning AND humans AND ethics

The purple triangle in the middle of the Venn diagram below represents the result set for this search. It is a small set using AND, the combination of all three search words.

Be aware:  In many, but not all, databases, the AND is implied.

  • Google and many library Databases automatically put an AND in between your search terms.
  • Though all your search terms are included in the results, they may not be connected together in the way you want.
  • For example, this search:  college students test anxiety  is translated to:  college AND students AND test AND anxiety. The words may appear individually throughout the resulting records.
  • You can search using phrases to make your results more specific.
  • For example:  "college students" AND "test anxiety". This way, the phrases show up in the results as you expect them to be.


Use OR in a search to:

  • connect two or more similar concepts (synonyms)
  • broaden your results, telling the database that ANY of your search terms can be present in the resulting records
  • example: cloning OR genetics OR reproduction

All three circles represent the result set for this search. It is a big set because any of those words are valid using the OR operator.


Use NOT in a search to:

  • exclude words from your search
  • narrow your search, telling the database to ignore concepts that may be implied by your search terms
  • example:  "sports technology" NOT gambling

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