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Religion 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 the requirements. Make sure you understand the assignment's guidelines and talk to your professor if you are unsure! 

Asking yourself the following questions may help determine the appropriate scope:

  • What geographic location will I be focusing on? Generally speaking, the smaller the place the narrower the topic.
  • How do two or more different perspectives relate to one another? Ex: cause and effect, contemporary and historical, group and individual.
  • Is there a specific time period I am interested in? A narrower topic will correspond with a shorter span of time.
  • Which aspect of this topic am I most fascinated by? Ex: Narrowing your interest in religious wedding ceremonies to focus on henna rituals and practices. 
  • Can I identify any scholars or experts who are studying the topic I'm interested in?

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 catalog or a database.


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.

Start your research!

Let your research question evolve naturally as you research.