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First-Year Composition

For all first-year composition classes: ENG 101, ENG 107, ENG 102, ENG 108, ENG 105.

Step Two


SUMMARY: Watch videos, read articles, and explore more information around the topic that you chose. Take notes on what you find most interesting and engaging about your topic. Ask yourself the 5 W's: who, what, where, when, and why. Use the answers to these questions to formulate an open-ended research question. 

What Is a Research Question?

Why a Research Question?

One way university-level writing differs from high-school compositions is that it usually starts with a Research Question. In high school you became skilled at answering questions that were often posed by someone other than yourself. As a student at ASU, you must decide which questions to ask as well as which questions to answer. This responsibility in both asking and answering questions is one of the reasons your research question for this course should be developed with thoughtful deliberation. Carefully considering this process of inquiry will lead to the thesis that will ultimately drive your research. 

Please note that the most effective research questions are complicated; they are not “Yes-or-No” queries. Instead, successful research questions are capable of opening multiple discussions, possibilities, and perspectives. Moreover, as we will soon discover, a successful research question is also malleable and revisable.

A Successful Research Question:

  • Has significance for you
  • Warrants attention from others
  • Has identifiable consequences and effects
  • Recognizes its context (historical, social, personal, scientific, etc.)
  • Leads to possible outcomes and/or solutions. 

Before finalizing a Research Question, you must think carefully about issues that appeal and matter to you. In addition, you must also do some initial research and reading in the form of finding background information. This early research will help you formulate a research question that truly reflects your interests and concerns. 

Developing a Research Question

Who? What? When? Where? Why?
Once you have a basic understanding of your topic and the issues surrounding it, narrow your research question by asking the following questions:

Who? - Are you interested in a specific group of people? Can you narrow your focus to a group or demographic, such as age, gender, ethnicity, location, or socioeconomic status?
What? - What are current issues around this topic? Is there anything in the news about it?
When? - Is your topic current or historical? Did it happen during a specific time period? Are there any important events surrounding your topic? 
Where? - Can your topic focus on a specific location? Where, geographically, might this topic be significant?
Why? - Why is this topic important? Why should others be interested?

It's okay for your research question to change over time as you find more information about your topic, or take out ideas that don't work.

Sample Research Questions

What are the most effective dietary changes for treating depression and anxiety?

How can we best measure climate change in Sonoran desert regions?

What kinds of learners are most successful in online environments?

What kind of training would best prepare local law enforcement and service providers to identify and respond to cases of human trafficking that might otherwise go unnoticed or unaddressed?

What cultural factors have led to the rise in popularity of zombie film, fiction, and television?

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