The Research Process: 1a. Develop Research Questions

A step-by-step guide for getting started in the research process.

So What?

As you develop a research question, keep the question so what? in mind. In other words, why is this topic important? Understanding the importance of the question will greatly help you in your research.


Brainstorming will help you explore potential concepts and questions.


Take some time and jot down your thoughts on your research question. Be as elaborate or abstract as you want as long as it makes sense to you.

Looking for a different way to brainstorm? Try this online mapping utility:

Developing Research Questions

To Begin Developing Research Questions:

  • Write down what you already know or don't know about the topic.
  • Using the information you wrote down, develop questions you'd like to answer when doing your research.
  • Use probing questions such as: Why? How? What if? Should?
  • Avoid questions that can be answered with yes or no. Research questions should be open-ended. 

Example: Endangered Species Act

What do or don't I know about the Endangered Species Act (ESA)?

I know it's a law that protects the animals and habitats in danger of extinction...I think the law only protects habitats within the U.S...I know at one point bald eagles and grizzly bears were on the list, but I think they were removed...I know there has been controversy about adding polar bears to the list...I don't what it takes for an animal to be removed from the list and I don't know what the penalties are for violating this act.

Research Questions

  • What was the Endangered Species Act (ESA) designed to protect -- animals only or ecosystems too?
  • What animals/habitats outside of the United States boundaries are covered by the act?
  • What other countries have legislation to protect animals/habitats?
  • What animals are currently on the endangered species list?
  • How does an animal get added/removed from the list?
  • What penalities are imposed on those who violate the act?

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