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ENGL 1A Withers: Developing Research Questions

Critical Reasoning and Writing

Sample Research Question

Broad Topic: Environmental Problems

Broad Question: What are some actions that everyday people can take to reduce their carbon footprint? 

I did some searching online for ideas. 

Possible strategy: Cut down on single-use plastics

To cut down on plastic usage, CA implemented a bag charge for customers who don't bring their own bags when shopping. What are some other things like this that everyday people could do to cut back on their use of plastic? 


  • reduce use of plastic water bottles
  • reduce use of sandwich bags to store food

Developing a Reserarch Question

Steely Library NKU (4:33)


Keeping your research question in mind, if you can answer TRUE to the statements below, your research question is probably workable.

  1. It cannot simply be answered with a yes/no. 
  2. It has social significance/a problem associated with it.
  3. There is reliable evidence available to address it.
  4. It has appropriate scope.

Developing a Research Question Takes Research

Be curious

When the scope of your paper is too big, it's hard to dig through information and to write a paper wit any depth. The goal of most research papers in college is to seek a possible answer to a particular questions related to a topic. A research question, when not too broad or too narrow, helps guide and focus your paper.

The question should also be one in which you haven't decided on a pre-determined answer. You may find that looking for sources that provide a certain answer may be too limiting. The answer you are expecting might not be supported by evidence.

Brainstorm & do some pre-research

The research question isn't a question you make up at the top of your head. It's normal to start with a broad topic in mind. After doing some brainstorming about a topic, you will need to do some reading to find an angle to pursue, and, even then, your question may change as you find more information later.

Ask questions

From your pre-research, think about questions you might be able to ask regarding the topic. Most scholarly research examines fairly narrow topics and looks at relationships between concepts. One way to limit the scope of your topic is to ask who, what, where, when, why, and how questions.

Be flexible

It's okay to continue to tweak your question based on the evidence you find.