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English Research Basics

Learn to research with ease using credible, college-appropriate resources to frame, guide, and inform your projects

Why Research Questions?

Create the flow of your paper

Now that you've done your background reading and know the basics about your topic and what you want to focus on, create some research questions to help you develop the flow of your paper.

Why research questions

Think of your research questions as a grocery list designed to guide you through a huge “storehouse” of information.

This list will allow you to efficiently locate and retrieve the most relevant knowledge possible to support your thesis, prevent you from getting off track as you sift through large quantities of information, and even help keep you organized as you begin writing.

Your list of questions may change and/or expand as your research progresses.

Getting Started With Research Questions

Good academic communication should include an introduction in which your topic and thesis is clearly defined, an analysis of your topic, and a clear conclusion.

Start out by introducing your topic, communicating to your audience why the topic is important, and providing enough background information to allow your audience to understand the analysis that is about to take place. Your introduction is also the logical place to embed your thesis.

Before you begin writing your research questions, you'll want to do a little background reading to begin learning something about your topic. 

Examples of defining/introductory questions:
  • What is _________________?
  • Why is ____________ an important issue?
  • What background information is necessary to understand ______________?
  • What are the different types of ____________?

All academic research demands analysis. Some projects lend themselves well to a cause/effect structure ("What caused hip-hop to emerge and what are some of the effects it's had on American culture?), while other assignments require a pro/con format ("What are the positive aspects of stem cell research? What are some of the negative implications?). Some projects can easily conform to both modes.

Examples of analytical/body questions:
  • What are the causes of ________________?
  • What are the effects of ________________
  • What are the “pro” arguments about_______________?

  • What are the “con” arguments about ______________?

  • How can I refute arguments about ______________?

  • What is being done about ______________?

Your conclusion allows you to demonstrate to your instructor that you have synthesized the information you found and clearly answered your thesis question (informative projects) or effectively proven your thesis statement (persuasive/argumentative assignments).

Examples of concluding questions:
  • What do I think should be done about  ________________?
  • Based on my research what do I think about  ________________ and why?


Guiding Research Question vs. Thesis

If you think of your focus as a single, overriding question guiding the exploration of your topic, you can think of your thesis statement as an answer to that question.

Your thesis:

  • Defines your point of view on your topic

  • Briefly outlines your arguments

  • Is often only fully developed toward the end of your research process 

Here are some examples that show you the transition from Topics to Guiding Questions to Thesis Statements


Broad Topic: Zombies

uiding Question: What is the allure of zombies in American popular culture?



Zombies are a huge part of the current American zeitgeist because they are a physical (and fanciful) embodiment of our post 9/11 fears.

Broad Topic: Teen drug use

Guiding Question: Are reality-based drug awareness programs any more effective than a “just say no” approach?


An abstinence-based “just say no” approach to drug prevention is ineffective for most media-savvy Millennials, and a much more effective approach is to accept that many young people will experiment with drugs and will best be served by receiving honest, accurate information from authority figures.