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Topic Development

Topic to Research Question

Once you have a working topic idea and have evaluated if it meets the criteria for your assignment, it's time to start thinking about transforming your topic into a research question.

Watch the video below on the differences between a topic and a research question:

Topics Vs. Research Questions (Virginia Tech Libraries)
Transcript: Topics Vs Research Questions.pdf 


After watching this video, you know there can be many different research questions for a topic. But it is also important to understand that there is a difference between everyday questions and research questions.

Research questions are complex, often involve multiple variables, and cannot be answered quickly with a few facts. Look through the examples of both kinds of questions below and note the differences.


Examples: Regular vs. Research Questions


Regular Question: How many children in the U.S. have allergies?

Research Question: How does geography affect a child’s chances of developing asthma?

Regular Question: Could citizens register to vote at branches of the Denver Public Library in 2016?

Research Question: How do public libraries in the United States support democracy?

Regular Question: What is MERS?

Research Question: How could public health decision-making about pandemic response be improved?


These examples of regular questions vs. research questions are adapted from: Choosing & Using Sources: A Guide to Academic Research by Teaching & Learning, Ohio State University Libraries is licensed under CC BY 4.0.

Turning a Topic into a Research Question

After watching the video on the difference between topics and research questions, try turning your topic into a research question. If you're still new to your topic, spend some time learning more about it.

Step 1:

Attempt to come up with 3 possible research questions related to your topic. Questions that start with How or Why often make for more complex questions. If you are stuck, you might consider exploring aspects of your topic in the following ways:

  • Compare/Contrast. 
  • Cause/Effect
  • Problem/Solution
  • Opinion/Reason

Step 2 :

Evaluate each question to see if it fits your scope and context by answering the following questions: 

  • Does the question meet the requirements of your assignment?
    • Some assignments want you to address specific aspects of a topic.
  • Is your question complex?
    • There is a difference between regular questions and research questions. 
    • For example, a regular question is "How many children in the U.S. have allergies?" while a research question is "How does geography affect a child’s chances of developing asthma?". 
    • Regular questions can be answered quickly while research questions are complex and often require multiple sources of evidence to address and may have more than one correct answer. 
  • Will you be able to answer the question given your assignment's timeline and page limit/requirement?
    • Depending on how much time you have and the scope of your assignment, you may have to narrow your research question.