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Research Skills Tutorial

This is a self-paced, non-credit course that covers research skills, critical thinking, media and internet literacy, and understanding the complexities of the modern information environment (including libraries.)

Turn A Topic Into A Research Question

Choose your starting research topic

When you get an assignment where you need to choose your own topic, begin by considering topics covered in your course and textbooks/readings that fit the assignment. Then do a some background research (covered on next page) on one or more of those topics to get a a bird's eye historical view. This will not only help you narrow your focus, but equip you with the necessary vocabulary (names of people, places and things related to the topic) to search the scholarly literature. 

Let's look at a brief example of how this narrowing process might look on paper:

  • Starting idea: cyberbullying

  • What things would you need to find out in order to write about this topic? What people (high school, middle school, or college students?), places (U.S., NYS, or a comparison between places?) and related concepts (internet trolls, state and federal laws, school policies, social media platforms, statistics, such as number of people who experience or see it?) are connected to this idea?

  • Some background readings (click links to explore): Encyclopedia entry, Wikipedia, Gov't site

  • Ideas for narrowing the topic (freeform brainstorm - look at aspects of the topic from above that appeal to you - put into the form of questions): Cyberbullying and child development? Cyberbullying and post-traumatic stress? Is there a connection between those who troll on the internet and those who engage in cyberbullying? What policies have been put in place in NYS (or my local school district) to combat cyberbullying? What is the relationship, if any, between economic and or ethnic status and cyberbullying?

  • Locate more information sources related to the topic (books, journal articles, government reports, etc.). Read or skim them and begin to formulate a more concrete direction for your research to take. Take notes. As your knowledge of the topic grows, ideas for what ultimate question(s) your paper will attempt to answer should start taking shape.

The following video explains how to find a balance between too broad and general, and too narrow. That way you are able to find enough research materials to write intelligently about, but aren't overwhelmed. 

Turn your topic into a research question and thesis statement.

Research is a form of problem solving, and the first step in problem solving is always to identify the problem. In other words, what question do you hope to answer with your research?

Once you have your research question, the next step is to reformulate it as a thesis statement. The thesis statement answers your research question in such a way that it leads into the major points that you will make in your paper. 

Accessibility Note

Please note: If you need to request accommodations with content linked to on this guide, on the basis of a disability, please contact Accessibility Resources and Services by emailing them.  Requests for accommodations should be submitted as early as possible to allow for sufficient planning. If you have questions, please visit the Accessibility Resources and Services website.