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The research and writing process is not linear. While it may seem like it’s a series of steps that involve picking a topic, writing a research question, finding sources, and writing a paper, it almost never happens that way, even for experienced researchers.
The process tends to be cyclical, even when you’re figuring out what you want to write about!
You are more likely to think of a topic, find some sources and read a little bit about it, fine tune your topic, look for more sources and read some more, and then write your paper. Sometimes you fine tune your topic many times as you figure out what topic will fit your assignment, and has enough articles written about it for you to write a paper.
The Research Process diagram above shows that as we move from Choosing a Topic, to developing a research question, to finding and reading sources for our paper, we will likely have to go back and refine our research topic, often more than once!
Let’s say you want to write about Climate Change. If you tried to write about the entire topic you would have to write a book…or maybe even two! So you need to identify a narrower aspect of the topic that you can cover in enough depth within the number of words or pages your instructor wants for the assignment.
It's a good idea to look at what the instructor wants you to do within your paper. Are you supposed to analyze, compare and contrast, or make an argument. This will be helpful in guiding you when you develop your research question.
Is social media bad for you?
This question is too broad because there are many social media platforms and "bad for you" could mean several things. We can improve on it by picking a social media platform, and a specific harm that we are interested in learning about.
Does Facebook have a negative effect on adolescent users self esteem?
This question is more focused. As we do more research and read more on this topic, we might have to narrow it further still depending on what we find.
What are the vaccination rates for the West Kootenay Region?
This question is focused, but it could probably be answered in a single sentence using a single article.
Why are the vaccination rates in the West Kootenay Region lower than the rest of the province?
This question has more potential for exploration as there are likely many factors that contribute to the vaccination rates in any given area. It may turn out that restricting the question to the West Kootenay region is too narrow, if there isn't enough material to research it thoroughly, in which case the research question would need to be revised.
Let's take the very broad topic of climate change and ask some questions
Who is affected by climate change?
Inuit, Fishermen, residents of coastal cities…
What are the effects of climate change?
Reduction in sea ice, increase global temperature, increase in CO2, more extreme weather events...
Where is climate change having the greatest impact?
The arctic, hurricane prone areas, Sahara desert
After you've brainstormed some ideas, you can start to identify some possible research questions.
How has the reduction in sea ice affected the Inuit in Canada's arctic?
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