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S.U.R.E. Program

Summer Undergraduate Research Program

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 and Hypothesis

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 and class notes to identify specific issues, arguments, and analytical approaches in your research area and then identify possible relationships between them. 

Ask yourself questions about your research topic: What interests me about this topic? 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?

Write a research question that your hypothesis answers: Use the information from your exploratory research and your answers to questions about your broad topic and the area you've decided to explore to build a focused, clear, simple research question

Identify the key concepts of your research question: what concepts will you need to define and measure in a study to answer your research question? How will you operationally define these concepts into numbers that you can analyze?

Identify your variables: Use your operational definitions to identify and list the independent and dependent variables for your research question. Identify possible confounding variables and the variables you would use to control for them.

Choose a current topic: Develop a hypothesis for a research area 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 develop experiments in areas that they care about. If you're interested in the topic, it will be more fun for you to do your experiment and write up your research paper, and probably more fun for your professor to read it, too.

Ask your professor for feedback on whether the hypothesis you develop is a good hypothesis, one that can be tested.

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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