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Research Help: Step 1: Clarify the Question

What is Research Article

Beginning the Cycle

Take the time to think critically about your topic. Consider carefully as you need to live with it for a long time. It’s okay to explore and fumble around a bit. I call this the “beginning cycle” because these steps are not usually linear. As you define your topic, you will review background information that will cause you to accept or reject ideas. These changes will alter the questions you develop. Your keywords list will also change as your questions change. You should finish all this work, however, before creating an essential question.

What Makes a Good Question?

  1. Do you know what your instructor wants?
  2. What are the requirements of the assignment?
  3. Ask for clarification
  4. Restate the assignment in your own words to ensure understanding

Start with the basics. It is helpful to have some questions/topics to look up when you start your research. These questions will develop as you narrow your topic and decide the focus of your research.

To start:

  • What do I already know about this subject?
    • Sometimes your teacher has given you notes on a topic.
    • May have studied the topic in another class
    • Think about the timeframe
    • Think about terms/concepts that are related to the topic.
  • What about my background or interests can I bring to this subject?
  • What do I want to learn more about in relation to this subject?
  • What are some topics/questions that I need to answer?


Develop a timeline.

Timeline:  It is important to budget your time. Those who wait until the last minute are more likely to perform poorly, plagiarize, and skip steps that will lead to a lower grade.  Your next research project will be that much harder to do.  Using the date due as the end date, work backwards, and estimate time for the following:

  • 10% for topic definition, background information, keywords list, list of questions, and the essential question.
  • 40% for searching, note-taking, citation, and finalizing thesis. 
  • 40% for outlining and writing the rough draft, including parenthetical citations.
  • 10% for the Research Checklist and the final draft.

Students often begin research by skimming through websites. The problem is they sometimes forget to keep a record of where they have been and what they found. Students also begin taking notes by typing in a computer, or writing on random sheets of paper, not thinking about how they're going to organize these notes later.  For a major research project, use a method.  Some students like note cards or notebook paper.  If you type better than you write, by all means, use a computer.

Whatever you do, make sure that the system is portable.  Don't type all your notes on your home computer or the computers at school.  Take your notes with you so you can work on them at school and at home.  The following are note-taking methods.  

  • Note Cards
  • Note Sheets
  • Notebook (handwrite using a notebook)
  • Word Processing Software (i.e. Word, Google Docs, etc.)
  • NoodleTools' Note taking/Outlining System