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Research Paper Planner: Guide

The links in this Guide will help you meet the research schedule laid out in the Research Paper Planner and support your research for completing essays, research papers, and theses. The schedule portion is located at

3: Explore a Research Question

A research question (a preliminary thesis statement) is a declaration of purpose that  indicates what it is that you intend to explore and discuss in your paper. Establishing a research question will assist you in two ways: 1) it will help differentiate relevant from irrelevant resources by sharply defining the parameters of your topic and 2) it will eventually give structure and direction to your essay when you are ready to commence writing.

You want to explore a topic to answer three big questions:

  • is there enough good information for me to use in developing my own ideas on the topic? 
  • do I have enough knowledge to understand the writings on the topic?
  • after looking at a preliminary group of resources, do I still like this topic?

How do you explore a topic?

  1. Do a preliminary search in a general database of resources using the keywords you identified in Step 2.  A good choice is Academic Search Complete and the link to it is below. 
  2. Note how many sources there are.  If you use the check box to limit the search to just peer reviewed or scholarly articles, are there at least 5 items still in the list?  Can you understand the abstracts for these articles? Do these articles have a bibliography of other sources and can you find these articles?
  3. Having read the abstracts for these 5 articles, do you still think you'll like the topic?
  4. What questions about the topic aren't answered by these sample articles you've found?  Do you like those? You want to make sure the topic isn't a "closed" topic or one that can't be reasonably answered.

If you can answer "yes" to these four questions, you usually have a good topic.  Before you start Step 4 take a moment to list the questions you have about your topic.  If you think you don't have questions then ask yourself "if I were reading a paper on this topic what 5 things would I want to know at the end of my reading?"  Then phrase those 5 things as questions.

The staff at the Jones Information Desk and the Subject Librarians will be glad to help you with this part of your research.  Below are some of the ways you can reach us.

University Libraries

One Bear Place #97148
Waco, TX 76798-7148

(254) 710-6702