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BCHM 472 - Biochemistry Laboratory I

The Research Question

A research question helps you to focus your research. When you have a research question, you can more easily tell if the sources you find are useful for your assignment. If the source doesn't help to answer the question, move on to the next source.

What are characteristics of a research question?

  • Clear, focused, and simple — You (and your instructor) should easily be able to tell what you are trying to research.
  • Manageable and researchable — Your question should not result in so many sources that you cannot cover the content within the page limit for the assignment. On the other hand, you don't want your research to result in too few resources that you don't have enough material to meet the page requirement for the assignment.
  • Of interest to you — You will generally do a better job researching and writing about something that interests you.

Developing a Research Question

How do you develop a research question?

1. Choose your topic — Your instructor might assign a topic or provide a list of topics to choose from. If you are given a choice, choose one in which you have some interest. As mentioned above, you will generally be more interested in researching a topic you are interested in, and create a more interesting assignment.

2. Conduct preliminary/exploratory research — Use your textbook, encyclopedias, handbooks, etc. to find recent information about your topic. You don't need to read everything here, you are trying to familiarize yourself with recent advances, current debates, etc.
Note: You can find handbooks and encyclopedias about your topic by going to the library catalog and typing your topic and "encyclopedia" or "handbook" (use a keyword search). For example: cancer handbook.

3. Narrow your topic — Use journalistic questions to generate ideas to narrow your topic. Below are just some ideas of questions you can ask. Your topic may lend itself to an entirely different set of questions.

  • Who? — Who is affected by the topic? Who is researching the topic?
  • What? — What is the effect of a treatment on those affected by the topic? What kinds of experiments have researchers tried to determine the cause of the affect? What was the result of the experiments?
  • Where? — If there is a geographic component to the topic, what is that?
  • When? — Is there a time component to the topic? Has what is known about the topic changed over time?
  • Why? — Why was an experiment was done? Why was some other experiment not done?
  • How? — How was an experiment done? What methods were used to determine people's attitudes toward the topic?

4. Revise! — You may not be able to get a good research question right off the bat. When you start looking for sources that help you answer your research question, your initial search may result in too many or too few sources. You may have to rewrite your question to refocus your searching to come up with a manageable and researchable research question.

Picking Your Topic IS Research

Research is not a simple step-by-step process. Choosing your topic and generating a research question are both things that can change because of the sources that you find. As you do preliminary research, you may discover an aspect of your topic (or a different topic altogether) that is of more interest to you. (Before changing your topic, make sure that your instructor will allow you to change your topic!. As mentioned above, the number of sources that you find may require that you alter your research question — or rewrite it entirely. The video below shows how picking your topic may not be straightforward and the same principles apply to the research question.

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