Research Planning 101


The first step in the research process is to ASK a research question.

Research is a process. It begins with your question, and ends with your answer.

How do you come up with a good research question?

  • Analyze the assignment
  • Develop your research question/thesis
What you ask + How you ask + Where you look = What you find

Step 1: Analyze the Assignment

The type of assignment determines how much and what kind of research you need to do, as well as how to organize and present your research.

Take your time to think about what the assignment requires. Not all assignments are the same.

Photos: By Philippe Leroyer on Flickr (1, 2, 3)

Check for certain terms in assignment instructions to determine what the professor is looking for:

Instruction TermsAssignmentTypes of assignments (example: tattoos)
Describe, summarizeReportExplores history of tattooing in the US.
Explain, compare, contrastAnalytical paperExplains differences in attitudes toward tattooing in the 1960s and 1990s.
Argue, persuade, evaluateArgumentative paper Argues that tattoos present serious health risks to adolescents.

Step 2:
Develop Your Research Question/Thesis

Start by choosing a question that interests you!

Even if your professor assigns you a topic, you can choose an aspect of that topic that interests you.

The best way to identify a good research "topic" is to develop a good research question.

It is important to have a good, "researchable" question/thesis.

  • A good question or thesis will save you time and keep you focused as you do your research.
  • A good question and a good thesis statement will help you concentrate on what information you want and ignore information that is irrelevant.

Too Broad

"Has man had a major impact on the environment?"

Focus Your Topic

Break down your statement into specific questions.

  • What constitutes "major impact"? e.g. Deaths? Illness? Pollution?
  • What aspects of the environment are we talking about? e.g. Ground water? Air?
  • What time period are we talking about? e.g. Last five years? Last 100 years?

Note: these questions can't be answered with a simple "Yes" or "No."

Case in Point

Which question is more "researchable"?

A. Do physicians charge too much for services?

B. What factors influence the operating costs of physicians in private practice?


B. What factors influence the operating costs of physicians in private practice?

  • Less general.
  • It focuses on a specific aspect of the cost of medical care.

Now what?

In the next section ("EXPLORE") you will test whether your question is "researchable" by exploring whether there is an answer to your question.

You may have to come back and revise your question if you can't find enough relevant information to answer it!

Credits / Colophon