Writing a term paper: developing research questions

When writing a term paper, you're basically answering the questions you've asked yourself about the topic. Your thesis is a proposed answer to a question you've found interesting enough to research, and that question often means asking many other questions in the process. To find the material you need for your term paper content, you'll need to be able to develop good research questions along the way. The following tips can help you do that quickly and easily.

  • Read up on background material.
  • The best research questions are likely going to be generated by learning a bit of background on the topic, so check out some general knowledge books about it, scholarly articles, and even casual publications on the topic. Make a note of any questions you have that come up while you're reading.

  • Reverse engineer other writers' theses
  • One clever way to come up with good research topics is to reverse engineer the theses of other writers. What exactly does that mean? It means choose journal articles about the topic that interest you, and identify the thesis statement. Then, ask yourself "What question does this thesis statement answer?". Write down these questions.

    Continue doing the above until you have about a dozen different questions written down. Once you've done that, it's time to refine your list.

  • Eliminate the questions that aren't closely related to your own thesis
  • Now that you have a dozen questions, you'll see that some are obviously more related to your own term paper thesis than others. Those that are only tangentially related can be safely eliminated. If you find this reduces your list to less than five questions or so, go back and do a bit more reading on the remaining questions to try and generate a few more.

  • Test the questions you've chosen
  • Once you have a solid list of five or more questions related to your term paper thesis, simply test them out by looking up material to see what's available. If there's plenty of source material available for a question - something you can determine simply by skimming titles and abstracts, usually - include that in your final list. If a question doesn't generate much source material when you search, discard it. You'll want to have at least three questions to work with when you're done; if you have fewer than that, repeat the above steps as necessary until you have three.

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