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PSYC 461/561: Learning and Memory

Research Guide for PSYC 461/561

Strong Research Questions

A strong research question covers a well-defined and well-studied area of research. Strong research topics/questions are:

  • focused
  • clear and simple
  • manageable
  • consistent with assignment requirements
  • of interest to you

Developing Your Research Question

A broad topic has literally thousands of articles on it, and you won't be able to adequately cover it in your literature review. It will be far easier for you to research and write your literature review if you develop a strong, focused research question:

Do some exploratory research on your topic idea, in your course textbook, class notes, and PsycINFO to identify specific issues, arguments, and analytical approaches in your research area and then identify possible relationships between them. 

Ask yourself questions about your topic idea. What concepts, issues, or other aspects of this topic interest you? What have people said about it? What gaps, contradictions, or concerns arise as you learn more about it? What relationships are there between different aspects of the topic?

Focus your topic: Use the information from your exploratory research to identify a few of the specific aspects that interest you and then use the questions you had about those to create your research question.

Choose a current topic: Your goal is to summarize and evaluate current findings of an area of research. Pick a research topic about which articles are continuing to be published. Avoid defunct or little-known areas of research. 

Write about what interests you: Professors want students to write about topics that they care about. If you're interested in the topic, it will be more fun for you to write your paper and probably more fun for your professor to read it, too.

Ask Dr. Clark-Foos for his feedback on your research question.


General topic: memory and aging

Do some preliminary research: I search for memory and aging in my course textbook to see what issues around memory aging interest me

Ask yourself questions about your topic to focus it: I write down specific aspects of memory that interest me, i.e. short term memory, episodic memory; specific factors that affect memory, like exercise, attention, distractibility

Write about what interests you: After reading my course textbook and and identifying different aspects of memory and aging, I decide I'm most interested in the benefits of exercise to the memory of elderly people

Research QuestionDoes physical exercise provide any memory benefits to elderly people?

Picking Your Topic IS Research

Once you've picked a research topic for your paper, it isn't set in stone. It's just an idea that you will test and develop through exploratory research. This exploratory research may guide you into modifying your original idea for a research topic. Watch this video for more info:

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