Answered By: Erin Mooney
Last Updated: Oct 30, 2015     Views: 2875

Usually researchers start out with a broad topic then narrow down to a question. It's important to do this before you do too much searching or writing so that you do not waste time. Here are some strategies for generating a good research question.

  • Think about what questions you have or that currently exist about your topic. For example, when researching the local food culture, you could ask:

"Why do people buy local?"


  • "What specific food items are people more likely to buy local and why?"
  • "What are the economic aspects of buying local? Is it cheaper?
  • "Do people in all socio-economic strata have access to local food?"


Thinking about the 5 W’s –who, what, when, where, and why– will help you brainstorm different ways you might narrow your question to be more specific. For example, if you're thinking about "when," are you brainstorming "the past," "the present," or "the future"?



  • Do some background reading -- to help you find a great research question. Reference sources may provide a new angle on your topic and identify an interesting question. If you are focusing on a particular academic discipline, like psychology, education, or business, then it is worth taking time to do background reading in subject-specific encyclopedias and reference sources in your field. You can find them in our Research Guides labeled "Reference Sources" or "Encyclopedias". You can also search your topic in one of the sources below:


  • Create a concept map of your topic that consists of all of the possible aspects and angles of your topic. See this great video on concept mapping:



Thanks go to the Portland State University Library for sharing their Library DIY idea with us!

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