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Contemporary Societal Issues: Research Planning

Making a Plan for Research

Each research project requires a different research strategy. Once you have chosen your topic and you understand what you need to do for your assignment, you need to plan a research strategy. Part of the research strategy is developing a research question.  It is important for you to know that research questions may change or become more refined during your project depending on what you uncover in your research.

These are some ideas to help you plan your research strategy. Thinking about them BEFORE you go looking for information will save you a lot of time.

Developing a Research Question

Step 1 – Choose a Broad Research Topic

You don't need to have a specific research question in mind when you begin thinking about your research project – just a general topic that you want to explore.

Things to consider when choosing an area to investigate:

  • Choose something that is interesting to you
  • Choose something that is relevant to the assignment 
  • Choose something that is significant enough to be researchable

Step 2 – Find Background Information

Once you have a general topic in mind, it is important to refine your topic. An idea like "I want to write a paper about the problem of recycling" lacks focus and will leave you frustrated.

Refining your topic can be difficult if you are not familiar with it. In order to help you focus your research, it is important that you gather background information.

Background information will:

  • give you an overview of the topic as a whole
  • alert you to the key issues and controversies
  • provide you with a sense of how the topic area relates to other topics
  • introduce you to the specialized vocabulary relating to the topic

Step 3 – Translate Your Interest into a Research Question

After you gather background information, one of the easiest ways to focus your topic is to frame it as a question. Research is a search for answers.

For instance, after doing research on recycling, you discover a current controversy involving local storage areas for recycled garbage. After looking at your background research, you have decided that this is the area you want to focus on.

There are a number of ways to narrow this interest even further into a research question.

Her are some questions to get you started and some examples.

Who is involved?

  • Who are the main actors in favor of and opposed to local recycling?
  • How do the national government, city government and neighborhoods address recycling?
  • Does the local population have the right to say if they want a recycling depo in their neighborhood or not?

Are there comparisons you can make?

  • How does the debate concerning recycling differ from the debate about garbage dumps?
  • Does the Turkey have different rules about recycling 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 recycling?
  • Should households be forced to recycle?

Common problems with research questions

There are a number of common mistakes people make when formulating research questions.

The question is too broad to do meaningful research.

  • What is the history of space exploration?
    • Try instead, How has China's space exploration program influenced the American space program?
  • How are environmental disasters being fought?
    • Try instead, How effective are the current practices for cleaning oil spills?

The question is too narrow.

Sometimes the narrowness is logical (there is an easily obtainable "right" answer), and sometimes it is too narrow given the availability of resources.

  • Does Canada have nationalized healthcare? (The answer is "yes." That doesn't make for a good research topic).
    • Try instead, What are the differences between Canada's and Turkey's nationalized healthcare?

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 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?

Step 4 – Further Modifying Your Topic

You will continue to modify your topic throughout the research process. How you modify your topic will depend upon:

  • Whether there is too much information
  • Whether there is too little information
  • Whether new issues arise during the research process that need to be addressed.

Attribution: Adapted from a guide developed by The University of Lethbridge Library, Canada, January 29, 2019. The original document can be found here

Consider the point-of-view or objectivity of the information.

  • Are you looking for unbiased information, information from opposing sides of a debate, editorials, personal opinions, etc.

How much time do you have to complete the project?

Managing your time is a critical component of any research project.

  • Is this project due at the same time you have other projects or assignments to hand in?
  • Do you have plenty of time to work on this project or must you schedule time outside school to meet with people and conduct interviews?

What Kind of Information Do You Need?

  • Do you need books, magazine articles, scholarly journal articles, statistics, interviews, sound recordings, videos, images, maps, etc.?
  • Do you need primary sources?
  • Should you have visual materials such as photographs, films, maps, etc.
  • Will special sound recordings or images help the viewer understand the topic?
  • Do you need to have numeric data such as statistics?

How current does the information need to be?

  • Are you working on a timely issue requiring the most up-to-date information?
  • Does it make a difference if the information you use was published in 1902 or 2019?

How much information does the assignment require?

  • Will a few short newspaper articles provide you with enough information?
  • Do you need to do a complete search of academic magazines over a number of years?
  • Most topics require a combination of various sources.
  • Do you need to do multiple experiments, interviews, surveys.

Where is the Information?

  • How much time you have and where information is located are very closely linked.
    • Is the information you need readily available?
    • Is it easy to get? ?
  • Sometimes you will not know the answers to these questions until you begin searching for your information.