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History 195: Family Secrets

Developing a Research Question

Tips for developing a research question

Don’t put yourself in a box early on and decide ahead of time what you are going to prove; leave yourself open to what your primary and secondary sources say.

Doing some background reading can help, as can doing some searches in the library catalog and databases - What has already been studied? Where do you see gaps? 

For scope, think about scholarly articles as a model for scoping your own research. How specific are they? 

You can always narrow or broaden by time period or region, or by thinking about your topic in more or less specific terms.

Good research questions:

  • Probably cannot be answered definitively or with yes/no; are more likely to begin with "how" or "why"
  • Do not focus on moral judgements (e.g. is something bad or good)
  • Can be answered by evidence you have access too
  • Are not too broad to be answered within the scope of your research project
  • Are not too narrow that you're not able to find evidence or related scholarship
  • Might change through the research process as you learn more about your topic 

Finding Articles