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HIST 104 - Western Civilization to 1650

This research guide will help you explore the many conversations about Western Civilization to 1650

Inquiry Driven Research

What Are You Trying to Figure Out?

Research works best when it is tackled with the true spirit of inquiry. What are you ultimately trying to figure out in regards to your topic?  

  • Are you trying to gain an overview of a brand new topic, or understand something familiar with greater depth and clarity?
  • Are you trying to develop a new idea or find the best arguments for or against an existing idea?
  • Are you trying to find a solution to a problem?

Approaching research through the lens of inquiry is a great way to keep you motivated. You aren't just looking for information, you're looking for ANSWERS!

Preliminary Reading: Getting Acquainted with Your Topic

It's important to begin your research learning something about your subject; in fact, you won't be able to create a focused, manageable thesis unless you already know something about your topic.

Do a Little Background Reading:

This step is important so that you will:

  • Begin building your core knowledge about your topic
  • Be able to put your topic in context
  • Create research questions that drive your search for information
  • Create a list of search terms that will help you find relevant information
  • Know if the information you’re finding is relevant and useful

Reference sources are highly-credible sources filled with thorough yet concise discussions that let you know the “who, what, when, why, and where” information on your topic right at the start of your research.

Top Picks:

Be Strategic: Develop Research Questions

Research as Strategic Exploration:

You want to approach your research as a quest to uncover answers to questions that didn't exist before. Seeking information to answer research questions is fun and it helps you explore your topic fully and focus it more specifically.

Your research questions help you develop a plan or roadmap for you to follow as you research.

The video below explains why you should always begin your search for relevant, credible information by creating a list of research questions that will drive your research.

Know What You Want to Explore

Why Focus:

To make your topic manageable and meaningful you need to focus on particular aspects of it. You'll get too much information if you stick with an overly-broad concept like black death; you'll get too little information if you just try to answer a narrow question like What were the causes of the black death.

Your research questions can help you focus your topic by identifying different aspects of it you want to explore.


Even if your teacher gives you specific questions to answer, you'll need to break them down into smaller questions so that you can explore your teacher's question thoroughly. For example:

Teacher’s Question:

Write an essay stating and justifying your position on the following statement: “Alexander’s goals evolved and changed during the course of his conquests.”

Student’s Exploration:

  • When did Alexander’s conquests occur?
  • Who was the focus of Alexander’s conquests?
  • What were Alexander’s  goals when he began his conquests?
  • What were his goals at the end of his conquests?
  • What factors shaped his goals?
  • How did his goals and focus change?
  • Why did this or these changes occur?
  • Did Alexander meet his goals? Why or why not?


To learn more about focusing your topic, look at this brief tutorial from Colorado State University.


Click on the Image Below to Launch the Tutorial:

Five Steps to Better Research Tutorial