Choosing a Research Question

Your goal is to come up with a problematic question, which will be the focus of your exploratory research.

  1. Read Chapter 7 pages 144-155 (Ramage, et al.). Pay special attention to the Exploratory Essay defined on page 144, described on page 148, and outlined in figure 7.1 on page 153. This is your next assignment.
  2. Complete at least one of the exploration exercises in the bullet list on page 149.
  3. Now formulate a possible research question for your paper. Try to avoid phrasing your question as a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question. Remember that the exploratory research paper does not require you to take a side. In fact, you should avoid, as much as possible, coming to a definite conclusion. In addition, using a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question can subtly direct your thinking toward these two positions, so that your research may become focused on finding people who agree and people who disagree. That can be quite limiting. The assignment works much better with an open-ended question. Post your question and watch for your instructor’s feedback.

If you are having trouble finding a question, consult Exploratory Research – Ideas

 Your Starting Point

To tell the story of any journey, a literal trip or a figurative one, you need to talk about where you started. Now that you have your research question, you need to record your thoughts, ideas, beliefs and other questions right now, before you start to do any research. This is your ‘starting point.’

Your starting point is the beginning of your research log.

Open a new document and title it ‘Research Log.’ Put your question in your log. Refer again to the section titled ‘Formulating a Starting Point’ on pages 149-150 (Ramage et al.). Write your starting point in your log. If you don’t have much to write, go to the description of the Exploratory Essay on page 148 and read the second sentence. Do some free writing or use some other brainstorming technique to explore the ideas raised in that sentence. Use what you learn to formulate your starting point.

NOTE: Your brainstorming is not your starting point; from your brainstorming, you must write your starting point. Your starting point ends with a clear statement about what you will try to find out first, as you begin your research process.

Exploratory Research Paper- Ideas

This assignment requires you to research a question, problem or issue that is interesting to you and for which you have not been able to reach a satisfactory answer or conclusion. The best research papers are focused on something you want to learn more about. In this paper, you do not take a position and defend it; you investigate the question, problem or issue and write an account of your investigative process.

Here are some ideas to help you think about how to do your research.

  • If you are researching a question, you might explore possible answers, other varying interpretations, and/or other questions that arise during the course of your investigation.
  • If you are researching a problem, you might explore possible causes, potential effects, and/or possible solutions and why they do not solve the problem.
  • If you are researching an issue, you might explore the different perspectives of people who are affected by the issue.

Selecting a Research Topic: some ideas

  • What effect does the desire for political correctness have on clear communication?
  • What are the effects of affirmative action laws in the present day?
  • Does capitalism ensure there will always be a poorer class?
  • How well has the ‘war on drugs’ worked?
  • How has the ability to download free music from the internet affected the music industry?
  • How might society change if assisted suicide were made legal?
  • Should adoption laws be changed to exclude the possibility of birth parents reclaiming their child?
  • What would happen if the voting age (or drinking age or driving age) were raised (or lowered)?
  • What kinds of limitations should there be to the right to privacy, especially in wartime?
  • How do fairy tales influence children?
  • How can we teach children to stop teasing and bullying others?
  • What would happen if schools taught some form of personal self-discovery, such as dream interpretation, meditation, or Tarot card reading?
  • Is there any truth or validity or usefulness to astrology?
  • Do we really need to work 40 hours a week anymore (much less 50-80 hours)?
  • Are human beings really essentially social beings, or are they essentially loners?
  • Does organized religion have a future?


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