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BIOL Course Guide: Question

Focusing The Research Question

In this video, you will learn how to take a broad research topic and transform it into a focused research question. This step is important in the research process because it will help you identify the question that you are trying to answer through the search for information.


  • When possible, choose a topic that you find interesting.
  • Search for background information before you commit to a topic. Make sure enough information is available to write a good paper.
  • Look for sub-topics within your topic. Your original idea for a topic may be far too complex to cover in just one paper.
  • Expect to adjust and/or refocus your research question once you start researching. Be flexible and expect change... it's the nature of research!
  • A good research question is one that cannot be answered with a "Yes" or "No."  Try starting it with a phrase such as "How does..." or "What is..."
  • Once you have your research question, ask yourself:
    • Is the question easily and fully researchable?
    • What type of information do you need to answer it?
    • Where can you get that information?

Adapted from: Loyola University's Library Guide "The Research Question College Writing Seminar"

Examples of Developing a Research Question

Topic  Subtopic   Issue/Problem  Research Question
environment global warming prevention in the U.S. What can the U.S. do to identify and prevent global warming?
William Shakespeare King Lear theme of betrayal How could the character of King Lear change the outcome of betrayal in the play?
censorship internet usage in China How will China's effort to censor the internet affect its citizens?
whales Minke whales extinction What factors have contributed to the Minke whale depopulation?


Adapted from Burkhardt, MacDonald & Rathemacher’s Teaching Information Literacy: 50 Standards-Based Exercises for College Students

Optional Research Question Exercise