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Identifying your research question

What is a research question?

A research question investigates a specific component of a broader topic area.  It is the question you are trying to answer when you do research on a topic.

Example of a topic vs a research question:

Topic: marijuana and crime
Research Question: Could the decriminalization of marijuana lead to less crime in British Columbia?

How do I come up with a research question?

Identifying your research question is a process and takes time. 

Often you are given a topic by your instructor, or you yourself have chosen the topic of interest, but at this stage of the process the topic is too broad to write about. 

For example, let's say you are given the topic 'restorative justice'

A good way to start is to do some initial searching of the literature to better familiarize yourself with what has been published and to build your knowledge base in the area.  Once you feel comfortable with your knowledge of the topic, pick an aspect of the topic that you are most interested in – what would you want to know about the topic? 

Maybe you would want to know how sentencing circles has helped to deter further crime, so you might formulate the following research question:

How successful has the implementation of sentencing circles been on the reduction of recidivism rates?

Re-evaluate your research question

As you search the literature for information to answer your research question, you should continue to evaluate your question as some of the more common pitfalls we find are people whose research question is either too broad, or two narrow.  This does not mean you have to toss the whole question and start over.  Instead, think of ways you can revise your research question without losing the main focus of your query.

If you are having trouble limiting the resources you find to answer your research question, chances are your question is still too broad. 

Strategies to narrow a research question

 To help narrow your question, consider the following:

Limiters Topic
Time Since 2000? This year? In the future? rates of recidivism since 2000
Population (demographic limiters) Gender, age, occupation, ethnicity, nationality, education, geographic location, language, etc...

rates of recidivism in teenage youth

rates of recidivism in Yukon Territory

Sometimes you end up with the opposite problem where you simply can't find anything on your topic.  Unless you are planning on doing original research in the area, it is best to broaden your topic.

Strategies to broaden a research question

Instead of How successful has the implementation of sentencing circles been on the reduction of recidivism in Nova Scotia youth?
Try How successful has the implementation of sentencing circles been on the reduction of recidivism in Canadian youth?

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