Skip to Main Content

Natural Sciences Resource Guide: Topic/Research Question

A guide from Funderburg Library on how to use library resources to do research for your classes in biology, chemistry, physics and environmental science.

Choose a Topic

Find ideas in:

  • Your syllabus
  • Your text
  • Class discussion
  • Your life
  • Current events

What's a Research Question?

The basic formula for a research question is:

How does x relate/impact/cause y?

For a good research question you’ll usually have one more component, something to make it a bit more specific, like a place, time, group of people, etc.  Try using the Five W's.


Find Background Information

Background information helps you: 

  • Start thinking about your topic
  • See the big picture
  • Identify major issues
  • Discover something that interests you

Use quality, professionally produced sources to familiarize yourself with the topic (not just Google and Wikipedia).

Try some of these:

Narrow Your Topic

Consider these questions:

Ask yourself open-ended questions to focus your topic. You don't have to answer all of the questions. Some might not apply or be helpful.

Use the five w's: 
  • Who: demographic focus (gender, age, ethnicity, socioeconomic status
  • What: aspects and impacts of the topic (sociological, psychological, economic)     
  • Where: geographic location
  • When: either present day or a particular time period in the past
  • Why/How/So What!: importance, significance (societal, individual)