Developing a Research Question

The key to writing a successful research paper is developing a workable and interesting research question and thesis. A good topic is neither too broad nor too narrow.

The question is what you will be answering in your paper. The thesis is the paper's assertion.

Both elements contain two essential parts, what Andrea A. Lunsford refers to as the "topic" and the "comment" (35-36).

The "topic" is the subject. So, for example, in a history class you might have a general assignment asking you to write about World War II. As your topic, you might select:

The "comment" is the point. In the research question, the comment is the aspect of the topic you are trying to explore and answer. In the thesis statement, the comment is the point your paper will demonstrate through evidence. So using the examples above, consider the following questions and theses:

Research Questions

Thesis Statements

  • To what extent did Pope Pius XII's actions contribute to the devastation of the Jewish Holocaust?
  • How significant was the role of the French Resistance to the success of the D-Day invasion?
  • Was it necessary to drop the second atomic bomb on Nagasaki in order to force Japan's rapid surrender and did this save many U.S. soldiers' lives?
  • Pope Pius XII's failure to speak out against the Nazis' systematic destruction of the Jews contributed to the severity of the Holocaust.
  • The assistance of the French Resistance movement did not materially influence the outcome of the D-Day invasion.
  • The United States did not need to drop the second atomic bomb in order to guarantee a rapid Japanese surrender.

In these examples, the topic is specific; but the paper won't just present information about the topic, it will use evidence to draw a specific conclusion.

Another important aspect to the success of your research project, however, is your own degree of interest in the assignment. How do you find a topic that interests you?

Lunsford, Andrea A. The Everyday Writer. 2nd ed. Bedford/St. Martin's, 2001.

And if you can't figure out how to create a good research question?

REMEMBER, you can ask for Help! Ask your teacher! Ask Librarians! If you need to, just hit the PANIC button!


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Created by Ruth Burridge Lindemann, 2002. ©Danville Area Community College, 2002-2004.
Updated August 25, 2004