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Identifying your research question

What is a research question?

A research question investigates a specific component of a broader topic.  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 which takes time. You may be given a topic by your instructor or you may come up with a question of your own. For example, let's say you are given the topic, 'restorative justice'. This topic is too broad to write about, so you would need to refine it.

A good way to start is to do some online searches to better familiarize yourself with the topic. Simple Google searches can work well here and Wikipedia articles can help you quickly frame your topic and provide some searchable keywords.  Once you begin to feel comfortable with the topic, pick an aspect you are particularly interested in. 

For example, maybe you would would like to know how sentencing circles help deter further crime. In which case you could formulate the following research question:

How successful have sentencing circles been in reducing recidivism rates?

Re-evaluate your research question

As you search the literature for information to answer your research question, continue to evaluate your question in case it 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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