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Chemistry & Biochemistry Resources

Formulating a Research Question

What makes a research question strong?

  • It is interesting to YOU!
  • It is related to the course.
  • It is well defined/scoped out (not too narrow, not too broad).
  • You have verified that there is enough credible information on the topic to support your research.

Finding a topic

  • List your interests and connect them with your course.
  • Scan the textbook or other readings and explore a topic further or from a different angle.
  • Browse the table of contents and abstracts of scholarly journals.
  • Mix your course with another field you are familiar with (ex: psychology and music).
  • Brainstorm and discuss with your classmates and professor.

Scoping your topic – Narrowing or broadening

You will need to narrow or broaden your research question to make sure you have enough supporting information to write an essay that fits with the requirements. Make sure you understand the assignment's guidelines and talk to your professor if you are unsure!

  • Limit your research question by adding more context to it: geographical context (where: a country, a region), historical context (when, time span), population group (limit by age, sex, race, occupation, species, or ethnic group), etc.

Example of applying these strategies to the topic of aging and narrowing it down to something more manageable:

  • One drug: rapamycin
  • One activity in the body: cellular changes due to aging

Now: How does rapamycin help promote slower cellular changes due to aging?

How and why to test your topic right from the start?

  • Why? Make sure there is enough background information and that research on the broad topic has been done before.
  • How? Write down a few keywords and their synonyms. Conduct preliminary research in the catalogue or in a database.

Adjusting

Once you start testing your research question, you might find that you narrowed it down too much. If that’s the case, you can use opposite strategies or remove one component to broaden it.

Example of broadening the research question above:

How can drugs slow down the symptoms of cellular aging? (Removed: drug - rapamycin)

Start your research!

Let your research question evolve naturally as you research.