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Developing Research Skills: Be Curious

The purpose of this guide is to introduce you to information literacy skills (superpowers) through the use of an existing research assignment so that you will feel more confident and equipped in college research activities.

Ask Great Questions

Be Curious Logo

Curiosity is the key to asking great questions in research!

You need the power of curiosity to select a research topic, formulate research questions, and persevere through your project or paper.  Interest in your topic will help you maintain focus and commitment.  Even if you have a topic assigned by your instructor, you still need to find an area that you want to explore within that topic.  Asking open-ended questions will help you if you have to select a topic, focus a broad topic or respond to an instructor-assigned topic.  

If the entire research topic and subject is of your choosing or your topic is too broad, start with "Understand Your Assignment" box below and complete all sections on this page.   If you have already chosen your focused research topic or have one assigned to you, start with the box labeled "Forming Research Questions."  If you don't have an existing assignment that you are applying to learning these information literacy concepts, choose one from the list under the tab "Additional Information" within this Information League tutorial.

understand your assignment

Read your assignment carefully and make sure you understand it.

Ask your instructor if you have questions. 
It is in your best interest to clarify your assignment with your instructor, rather than your classmates or other college staff.

Make sure you know what the requirements are, such as.....

√ Due dates?
√ Types of sources required or not allowed?
√ Number of sources required?
√ How many pages?
√ Formatting requirements (margins, font, headers, etc)?
√ Required citation style?
√ Special requirements?

Video Tutorials (2)

How to Develop a Good Research Topic

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Picking Your Topic IS Research!

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Thinking of a Topic

1. Choose something that interests you.  If you are having trouble, look through your class notes, search the CQ Researcher database, or search some of the news links listed below. 

2.  Make sure your topic meets the assignment requirements. 

3.  Be creative. Find a topic that hasn't been written about over and over.

4.  Focus your topic so it is not too broad.  You can narrow a topic by using the five W's: Who, What, When, Where, and Why?

5.  If you are finding very little information when you explore, your topic may be too narrow.  Try expanding the topic by:

  • geographic region (ex: expand from Waco to Texas or U.S.)
  • time period
  • group of people (ex. nurses to health care workers)

Use reference and overview databases, such as CQ Researcher or Credo Reference, listed below.  You can also use the listed news links to generate ideas:

Forming Research Questions

Now you are ready to think about your topic in the form of research questions.  You will use these research questions with 3 areas of your research process:

  • Outline: Use the questions to decide the flow of your paper: introduction, main arguments, conclusion.
  • Search for Information: Your research questions will determine what you look for in a library database or search engine.
  • Writing: The research questions will be your checklist to make sure that you found the sources to answer your questions and conduct more research if there are some gaps.

This task takes you from merely having a topic idea and really examining what you know, what you need to know, and what is important to include in your paper in order to educate or convince your audience and fulfill the requirements of your assignment.  Your research questions will not be "yes" or "no" questions, but open ended and look like:

  1. What do I already know? 
  2. What do I need to find out? 
  3. Why is this topic controversial or important? 
  4. Who is concerned about this issue? 
  5. What are the causes, effects, reasons, or solutions related to this issue?
  6. Based on what I already know, what do I think about this issue?

You won't be answering all your questions now - your final product (paper, presentation) will ultimately answer these questions. Forming research questions is just a good method for planning and organizing your current knowledge and gaps in knowledge.

Example: Media Violence 
Narrow topic: Video game violence and the impact on teenagers
Questions: Are violent video games addictive?
Does video game violence affect all teens or just those that already have mental health issues?
Is there an increase in violence among teenagers?
Why is it thought that violent media has an impact on teens?  How does the impact manifest itself?
What do I need to know?  Statistics on the use of violent video games among teenagers, either worldwide or in the United States.

Source Consulted:

Ennis, Kathleen. "Develop Research Questions." Research Guides, MJC Library & Learning Center, 22 Mar. 2018.

Now you try it!

Use the link below, "Form Your Research Questions," to answer 3 basic questions and then choose and create research questions unique to your topic.  As previously mentioned, these questions help you in three areas of your research paper or project: the flow and structure of your paper (outline), searching for information (sources) and checking to ensure you wrote about all relevant subtopics or questions (writing).  If you have a research topic from a course assignment, use that for this task.  If you are going through the Research and Information Literacy tutorial without the use of a current research assignment, use a suggested topic from the "Additional Information" tab within the Information League guide. 

College Student Logo representing Curiosity

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