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ENGL 105: Valenzuela: Help With Crafting a Research Question

Do Pre-Research to Gather Information First

Before you jump directly into choosing the articles needed for your essay, take some time for pre-research. You'll be glad you did! Pre-research is exactly what it sounds like:

  • checking into your topic to get an overview,
  • finding out more about the context of your topic, and
  • making note of what you already know about the topic.

Pre-research gives you a better idea of what kinds of information is available on your topic (and where to look for more). From what you find, collect useful keywords  or key phrases to use in searching for more directly relevant or focused information. 

Encyclopedia Articles for this Class from Prof. Valenzuela

These materials, pulled out by the instructor and posted in Week #7 in Canvas, are great places to look for key words and phrases for searches - as well as helpful context and background to the ideas expressed in Ibram X. Kendi's book(s).

Good Sources for Pre-research - Encyclopedias

Use an academic encyclopedia to get an overview or background information. Here are some online encyclopedias:

Good Sources for Pre-Research - Multidisciplinary Databases

These databases include material from a very wide range of disciplines. Doing a quick scan of the titles and brief descriptions of search results here will give you an idea of the scope of information available, and suggest keywords or phrases to use in a more focused search later.

Use Results From Pre-Research to Focus your Research Question

Research question image

Use what you've found in your pre-research to figure out if you need to broaden or narrow your original idea when crafting your research question.

Narrowing Your Research Question

This useful online tool from the  University of Nevada Las Vegas can help you narrow your topic if it's too general:

Broadening Your Research Question

But sometimes we can narrow our topic too far. If your searches come up with little or no results:

  • Check your spelling
  • Try (an)other keyword
  • Change or remove one or more limits from your topic:
    • Who - population or group (e.g., instead of just looking at first-year college students, choose a broader section of the population)
    • What  - instead of a specific thing, use the category of that thing (for example, use "college entrance exams" instead of SATs)
    • Where  - geographic location (e.g., instead of Bay Area, choose California, or even just the United States)
    • When  - time period or era (e.g., instead of 2019, choose the most recent 20 years)

Identifying Pro and Con Arguments on a Topic

One of the best sources for an argumentative opinion paper is the database Opposing Viewpoints.