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Research Guides

Research 101: Inquiry is a Process

This guide contains modules focused on introducing students to academic research

Inquiry is a Process


  • Ask students to draft a research question or come to class with a research question they have used in the past. Then, provide students with research questions from more experienced researchers, and ask students to compare their research questions. Help students analyze some of the differences and determine what elements they might be able to incorporate into their next research question.
  • Ask students to reflect upon the steps they went through when researching a major purchase or event in their lives (e.g. buying a car, selecting a college, etc.). Let them identify the steps involved in the research behind such a decision and their relative effectiveness in achieving the desired outcome, then consider how they might use a similar strategy in the academic setting.

  • Assign students to keep research logs in which they note changes in particular research directions as they identify resources, read, and incorporate new learning.



Welcome to Research 101: Research is a Process.

When you're just starting research and choosing a topic, it's important to develop a basic idea of what's going on in the field. This includes knowing the vocabulary and points of disagreement between scholars. To get this information you might try reading encyclopedia articles, academic blogs, and current publications. Eventually you will know the leading scholars and top publications in your field. This will all influence the direction your research will go.

Research questions often stem from gaps in the current information within a field. Your topic may be based on real world needs or circumstances, as well as your personal and professional interests. As you gain a better sense of the foundational ideas, resources, and terms used in your area of interest, you will be able to develop more advanced research questions. When you research what others have done, consider: What questions open or unresolved? What can I add to the conversation?

When developing your research question there are 3 things to keep in mind:
One, the general topic or field you are researching
Two, the question or what you are trying to find out
And three, why this question is important

Sometimes using a format to phrase your question helps: I’m studying _____ to investigate _____ in order to understand _____. This structure give you a way to keep your question narrow, identifying just the area that you are studying and helping your reader position the question within a field.

This is not a quick process. It takes time to develop complex research questions. You might consider keeping a log of your research where you note changes and new ideas. It will help you identify resources and incorporate new learning.

So to recap: research is a process. You need to develop some background knowledge of your subject before entering a line of research. Research questions can originate from a gap in the literature, professional interest, societal need or your personal experience. Exceptional research questions incorporate topic, question and significance.


Research is a process which is iterative and depends upon asking increasingly complex questions.

Learning goals:

  • Understand that a new researcher must develop a foundational knowledge base
  • Understand that research questions are formed where there are gaps in the current information or research topics are often based on societal, personal, and professional needs.
  • Develop a basic, researchable, question.


Please note the information contained in this guide is meant to help supplement a class, assignment, or curriculum. Please use the embed links or copy and paste the information into your course guide or site.

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