Research is often important to creating a persuasive argument. You will remember that one effective rhetorical appeal is logos, or a logical argument. Writers can research to find facts and data to support their persuasive arguments. Both professional researchers and successful student researchers develop research questions. That’s because research questions are more than handy tools; they are essential to the research process. In Touchstone 1.2, you will create your own research question for a topic of your choosing.
For instance, if you’re seeking information about a health problem in order to learn whether you have anything to worry about, research questions will make it possible for you to more effectively decide whether to seek medical help–and how quickly. By using research and data, you will improve your ability to quickly and thoroughly solve problems.
Or, if you’re researching a potential employer, having developed and used research questions will mean you’re able to more confidently decide whether to apply for an internship or job there. The confidence you’ll have when making such decisions will come from knowing that the information they’re based on was gathered by conscious thought rather than serendipity and whim.
For many students, having to start with a research question is the biggest difference between how they did research in high school and how they are required to carry out their college research projects. It’s a process of working from the outside in: you start with the world of all possible topics (or your assigned topic) and narrow down until you’ve focused your interest enough to be able to tell precisely what you want to find out, instead of only what you want to “write about.”
The table below further describes the process of narrowing a topic.
|Type of Topic||Description|
|All Possible Topics||You’ll need to narrow your topic in order to do research effectively. Without specific areas of focus, it will be hard to even know where to begin.|
|Assigned Topics||Ideas about a narrower topic can come from anywhere. Often, a narrower topic boils down to deciding what’s interesting to you. One way to get ideas is to read background information in a source like Wikipedia.|
|Topic Narrowed by Initial Exploration||It’s wise to do some more reading about that narrower topic to learn more about it and also to learn specialized terms used by professionals and scholars who study it.|
|Topic Narrowed to Research Question(s)||A research question defines exactly what you are trying to find out. It will influence most of the steps you take to conduct the research.|
One way to get ideas would be to brainstorm a list of all of the words and images that come to mind when you think about this topic. Then, you can look at the list and make note of what ideas seem interesting to you. Brainstorming is a great way to generate a lot of ideas, which you can then use to narrow your focus.
Or, instead, you could just begin by looking around or taking a walk. You may be inspired to write about animal welfare after seeing a neighbor walking the dog, or to write about bird sanctuaries after seeing the robins on a yard.
You’ll want to follow these steps to determine how effectively Anna narrows her topic:
Okay, I have to write something, a research project, about a problem in my community. Goodness, I don’t know, I feel like I complain about things a lot, but I'm not sure how I would use research to write about any of them. I think I'll go for a walk.
Well, here are some people walking their dogs. Is there something there I could write about? Maybe I could write about people cleaning up after their pets? No, I'm not sure what research I would use for that. I don’t think that topic would support an assignment. Better keep looking.
Oh, here is the bus stop. I see several people getting on the bus. Maybe I could write about something related to public transportation? That has some promise, but I am not sure how I want to improve our public transportation system. I'm going to make a mental note of that topic and maybe come back to it.
Now we are at the park. I remember coming here when I was younger. I really enjoyed playing with my brother. Wow, it looks different than the last time I came over here. There is litter on the ground, and an overflowing trash can. That doesn’t make it seem like an attractive place to play, much less safe for young children. That is a shame. You know, that really bothers me.
Hmm, since I feel strongly about this, I wonder if I can turn this into my project? Come to think of it, I definitely saw a lot of trash on my walk this morning. What could we do to help the trash problem in our community? Could the city hire more people to clean? Buy more trash cans? Well, I am not sure how I would use that as a topic, and in addition, it would probably be better if we didn’t have as much trash to begin with. How about something with recycling?
Recycling sounds promising, and I bet I can find a lot of research to support that topic. The library is right around the corner, so I will stop by there and see what I can find in a quick Google search.
Okay, let me start with a broad topic of recycling and see what is available. Goodness, that is a lot of information. Okay, I see some locations for recycling centers, but none of them are nearby. I think I may be on the right track. Here is some information from the EPA about the benefits of recycling, that may be interesting. This is a long article on this webpage. I wonder if there is any information about starting a recycling center. Let me use the Ctrl F feature my professor mentioned. It will search on this page for a key term. Oh okay, that worked, but it looks like this page doesn’t have what I am looking for. I am going to go back to Google.
I think I will try a more specific search. Let me try “starting a recycling program.” Wow, there is a lot of information about this as well. I see a lot of websites with steps on how to start a program, and I also see some information about costs. I don’t know that I realized that it costs money to recycle. I wonder how much it costs and what we would need?
You know, I bet it is also expensive to maintain trash clean-up. I know that many homeowners pay a waste fee. I wonder how much it costs the city each year in landfills, and trash clean-up? Maybe I can compare the amount that trash clean-up costs the city each year, with how much recycling costs. It would probably be interesting to know how much trash the city generates a year as well. Wow, I’m really getting a lot of ideas for information, so I need to jot these down so I don’t forget them
Okay, I really like this topic. Let me email my professor and get her opinion. My topic will be bringing a recycling program to our city. My research questions seem to center around economics, so my research question will be: How can a recycling program save the city money, both now and in the future? Okay, the email is sent. While I am here at the library, I think the next step is to see if the librarians can point me towards some local data.
It’s wise to do some more reading about that narrower topic once you have it. For one reason, you probably don’t know much about it yet. For another, such reading will help you learn the terms used by professionals and scholars who have studied your narrower topic. Those terms are certain to be helpful when you’re looking for sources later, so jot them down or otherwise remember them.
For instance, if you were going to do research about an increased interest in farming in society as part of a course. You may find some other terms that would be helpful for your research: agriculture, permaculture, and homesteading. If you didn’t learn that, you would miss the kinds of sources you’ll eventually need for your assignment.
Most sources other than journal articles are good sources for this initial reading, including the New York Times or other mainline American news outlets, encyclopedias for the discipline your topic is in (ecology for the animal welfare topic, for instance), dictionaries for the discipline, and manuals, handbooks, blogs, and web pages that could be relevant.