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Sociology Research Guide

A research guide for sociology subjects and courses

Characteristics of a Research Question

Research questions have a few characteristics.

  • They're open-ended. (They can't be answered with a simple yes or no response.)
  • They're often measurable through quantitative data or qualitative measures.
  • They summarize the issue/topic being researched.
  • They may take a fresh look at an issue or try to solve a problem.

In addition, research questions may . . .

  • answer how or why questions
  • fit within a cause/effect structure
  • have a pro/con format
  • introduce an argument that is then supported with evidence

Topic Selection

Topic selection is the process you use to choose your topic. This is the more creative side of topic development. There are several steps to this process.

  • Brainstorming.
    Start a list of topics that interest you and are within the guidelines of the assignment. They could be personal, professional, or academic interests. Researching something that interests you is much more enjoyable and will keep you interested in the research process. Write down related words or phrases. These will be useful at the research stage.
  • Reshaping the topic.
    Sometimes you'll choose a topic that's either too narrow or too broad. Find out ways to broaden or narrow the topic so that it's a better size to fit your research assignment. This is where Wikipedia and generic Google searches are okay. You can use those sites to get other ideas of how your topic idea may work. Perform some simple searches to see what information is out there. (Just be sure not to cite Wikipedia or Google.)
  • Looking at the body of research.
    Once you have a topic that you think is a good size, take a look at the body of research that's available for the topic. Check in catalogs and databases. Look at reputable websites. You want to be sure that your topic has an adequate amount of research before you invest too much time into the idea.
  • Revising.
    Throughout this process, be prepared to revise your topic. Don't think that you have to keep the same topic that you started with. Topic revision happens all the time. In fact, we often develop better topics as a result of this revision!

Topic Verification

Topic verification is the process you use to confirm your topic is viable for research. This is the more technical side of topic development. There are also several steps to this process.

  • Using search strategies.
    Do some experimental searching in the databases using search strategies. Try different combinations to see what you find. Use your notes from your brainstorming to search for different synonyms or phrases.
  • Locating relevant and reliable information.
    At this stage, you want to see if you can find both a good quality and good quantity of sources. You don't need to read the entirety of the sources right now. Just read their abstracts and identifying information. Confirm that the sources you find support each other. Double-check the authority of the authors. This is the source evaluation stage.
  • Verifying information.
    Once you've confirmed that the sources are reliable and relevant, decide whether or not you can verify the information in the sources. If your sources corrobate each other, you have a good topic. In fact, even if they dispute each other, that is sometimes okay. It just depends on your topic's goal. However, if you cannot verify the reliability of any of your sources' information, then you may need to start over again with a new topic idea.

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