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Research Guides

PWR Instructors: Developing Research Questions

Developing Research Questions:

The majority of undergraduate students who come into the OWRC are seeking assistance in developing research questions and theses. The quality of a research question can make or break a writing assignment. Students often have interesting ideas that would serve as a fruitful means of inquiry but can have trouble scoping their questions to be clear, specific, relevant, open-ended, of personal interest, and manageable enough to fit within the frame of their assignments. Our suggested lesson plan and supplementary resources, inserted strategically into a syllabus, are designed to aid students in building these skills that will aid them throughout their college careers and beyond.

You can access the lesson plan through the tabs above. It takes about 45 minutes on average to conduct the lesson. Preparation includes reviewing the lesson plan and gathering materials such as printouts. If you would like any assistance in preparing for your library instruction, please feel free to schedule a consultation with John, Connor, or Kathleen by following the link to the right.

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Developing Research Questions Lesson Plan:

A printable version of this lesson plan is available here.

Lesson Name & Topic:

Developing Research Questions

This lesson plan is designed to aid students in building fundamental skills in developing clear, specific, relevant, open-ended, and manageable research questions.

  • Brainstorm and explore ways to choose a research topic
  • Conduct preliminary reading to inform research
  • Craft and revise a research question
  • Know where to go for additional help

Time Needed:

30-minute preparation

45-minute class session

  • Go over the lesson plan and gather materials
  • Print additional copies of the worksheets if necessary to have 1 for each student in class (or share worksheet links with students)
Supply List:

Importance of Research Questions (10 minutes):

  1. Explain why research questions are crucial:
    • Guide the research process
    • Define the scope of the study
    • Provide a clear purpose for the research
    • Help focus efforts and resources
  2. Discuss how a well-crafted research question contributes to a successful research project.

Characteristics of Effective Research Questions (5 minutes):

  1. Present the characteristics of effective research questions:
    • Clear and concise
    • Specific and focused
    • Relevant to the field of study
    • Open-ended
    • Feasible and manageable
    • Researchable and answerable
  2. Use examples to illustrate each characteristic and encourage class discussion.

Guidelines for Developing Research Questions (5 minutes):

  1. Provide a step-by-step approach to developing research questions:
    • Choose a broad topic of interest
    • Conduct preliminary background research
    • Identify gaps or problems in the literature
    • Refine the broad topic into a specific research area
    • Formulate a clear and focused research question
  2. Emphasize the iterative nature of refining and revising research questions.

Activity 1: Evaluating Regular vs. Research Questions (10 minutes):

  1. Divide students into small groups.
  2. Distribute Regular vs. Research questions handouts.
  3. Instruct each group to discuss differences between questions (5 min)
  4. Discuss worksheet as a class (5 min)

Activity 2: Developing Research Questions (10 minutes):

  1. Return to small groups.
  2. Have each group evaluate a research question. This question can either be one a group member is developing for a class project, or a question from the critiquing research questions worksheet. (5 min)
  3. As a class, review the research questions presented by each group. (5 min)
    1. Provide constructive feedback and discuss the strengths and areas for improvement.
    2. Address any questions or uncertainties students may have about the research question development process.

Conclusion and Reflection (5 minutes):

  1. Emphasize the importance of crafting clear and focused research questions.
  2. Encourage students to reflect on how they can apply the knowledge gained to their own research projects.


Selected UW Libraries Materials: