After gathering background information, one of the easiest ways to focus your topic is to frame it as a question. Research is not passive reporting, it is a search for answers.
For instance, after doing research on censorship, you discover a current controversy involving censorship of the Internet. So, looking at your background research, you have determined that this is the area on which you wish to focus.
There are a number of ways to focus this interest even further into a research question.
Some questions to get you started
Who is involved?
- What are the political affiliations of those who are in favor of and opposed to censoring the Internet?
- How do public schools address Internet access and censorship?
- Does the government have the right to censor the Internet?
Are there comparisons you can make?
- How does the debate concerning Internet censorship differ from the debate about book banning?
- Does the Canada have different rules about Internet censorship than other countries?
Are there Pros & Cons to your topic? This reflects a potential decision to be made
- What are the ethical arguments for or against censoring the Internet?
- Should libraries censor Internet use?
- Should Internet filters block pornography?
Your background research using specialized encyclopedias and dictionaries will give you the knowledge you need to formulate a good research question.
Common problems with research questions
There are a number of common errors people make when formulating research questions.
The question is too broad to be manageable.
The question is too narrow.
Sometimes the narrowness is logical (such as there being an easily obtainable "right" answer), and sometimes it is too narrow given the availability of resources.
- Does Sweden have nationalized healthcare? (The answer is "yes." That doesn't make for much of a paper).
- Try instead, What was the political process that enabled Sweden to establish nationalized healthcare?
- How did the UAW affect the economy in Dayton, Ohio in 1973?
- Try instead, What influence did the automobile labor unions have on the economy in the early 1970's?
The question cannot be answered.
Sometimes this is because of a logical problem in the question, because the information needed to answer the question cannot be logically or legally obtained.
- What are the pros and cons of evolution? (This isn't a very logical question).
- Try instead, How does teaching of evolution in public schools affect children who are raised in religions that embrace creationism?
- How many girls are forced into prostitution each year?
- Try instead, What are the traits that make girls vulnerable for being forced into prostitution?