Skip to Main Content

Research Process: 1b. Develop Research Questions

No matter what stage of the research process you're at--only beginning, stuck in the middle, or finishing up with citation polishing--this guide is a great resource for you.

Developing Research Questions

1b. Once you've selected an initial topic, the next step is to develop research questions.

Plunging into research without a basic guide like a research question is like "filling a teacup with a fire hose" as you will be overwhelmed with the amount of information available.

To begin, ask yourself what type of project you're working on. A research paper? A quantitative study? A literature review? Although research questions can cross disciplines, it's important to understand your end product.

After you've clarified your type of project, continue by doing the following:

  • Write down what you already know or don't know about the topic.
  • Using the information you wrote down, develop questions you'd like to answer when doing your research.
    • Use probing questions such as Why? How? What if? Should?
    • Avoid questions that can be answered with yes or no. 

Questions to Ask

Your topic may be brand new to you, or you could be starting a project that you have experience with. Either way, decide now where you fit in the chart below, and prepare to write your questions.

Developing Research Questions

Ready to write your research questions? Head to the next section.

Mind Mapping

Consider creating a mind map. Mind maps are ways to put your thoughts into a visual format. You may use a piece of paper, or create an online map at a free service such as Wisemapping. Once you start a mind map, you can use it as a way to brainstorm keywords for your topic. It has other uses, too, such as planning out your entire research project. Mind maps may also be used as a presentation tool. For ideas on how to form a mind map, visit Mappio.

Mind Map Example


What do I (or don't I) know about the Endangered Species Act (ESA)?

I know it's a law that protects animals and their habitats that are in danger of extinction. I believe the law only protects habitats that are within the U.S. boundaries. I know at one point bald eagles and grizzly bears were on the list, but I think they've been removed. I know there has been a lot of controversy recently about adding polar bears to the list. I don't know what it takes for an animal to be removed from the list and I don't know what the penalties are for violating this act.

Research Questions

  • What is the history of the Endangered Species Act?
  • What was the Endangered Species Act (ESA) designed to protect -- animals only or ecosystems too?
  • What animals/habitats outside of the United States boundaries are covered by the act?
  • What other countries have legislation to protect animals/habitats?
  • What animals are currently on the endangered species list?
  • How does an animal get added/removed from the list?
  • What penalties are imposed on those who violate the act?

CONTINUE... Back to Previous Step Continue to Next Step




  Reach us at the Viterbo Library by phone, email or chat.

Main Desk: 608-796-3269 | Reference Desk: 608-796-3270 | Reference Email:

Library Website: