Research is a Process
The Research Process is a cyclical process. The process starts with choose a topic, then explore your topic, narrow to research question, find sources, select relevant sources (evaluate), and then repeat if necessary.
The Research Process Explained
Academic research is three dimensional process that requires flexibility and diligence. The process involves choosing a topic that is interesting to you and exploring resources that yield more information about your topic. There are a lot of resources to use, try not to get overwhelmed. You can follow the simple steps listed in the process to the left, but do not get stuck in the pattern. You can go forward and backwards, and even across the process as you work your way through your research topic.
Start with an idea
You may be assigned an idea, or you may come across a topic in your readings or class discussions that are of interest to you. Keep a list of topics to look at later, when you are ready to begin the assignment
Resources such as Google or Wikipedia are often ways to create a list of keywords and to help formulate an idea. Try several different options of gathering information.
Formulate your Question
What is it about your topic that you find interesting? Why? If you can answer those questions, you have the main idea you want to research.
Google is great, but you might be required to find specific types of resources (scholarly, primary sources, etc). Go beyond a Google search for more depth and variety of research.
Each article you save has something of interest to you. Use the credibility test to measure the reliability and validity of your resource. The goal is to find resources that are relevant to your topic and answer questions that will enhance your paper and the synthesis of your topic.
Formulating a Research Question in the Social Sciences
Here's an excellent guide to formulating your research question, from the Duke Writing Center:
While all research questions need to take a stand, there are additional requirements for research questions in the sciences and social sciences. That is, they need to have repeatable data. Unreliable data in the original research does not allow for a strong or arguable research question.
In addition, you need to consider what kind of problem you want to address. Is your research trying to accomplish one of these four goals?
1) Define or measure a specific fact or gather facts about a specific phenomenon.
2) Match facts and theory.
3) Evaluate and compare two theories, models, or hypotheses.
4) Prove that a certain method is more effective than other methods.
Moreover, the research question should address what the variables of the experiment are, their relationship, and state something about the testing of those relationships. The Psychology department at California State University, Fresno, provides the following examples and explanations:
Possible research question: Are females smarter than males? This question delineates the variables to be measured: gender and intelligence. Yet, it is unclear how they will be evaluated: What method will be used to define and measure intelligence?
Revised question: Do females age 18-35 score higher than adult males age 18-35 on the WAIS-III? (The WAIS-III is a standardized intelligence test.) This research question produces data that can be replicated. From there, the author can devise a question that takes a stand.
In essence, the research question that guides the sciences and social sciences should do the following three things:
1) Post a problem.
2) Shape the problem into a testable hypothesis.
3) Report the results of the tested hypothesis.
There are two types of data that can help shape research questions in the sciences and social sciences: quantitative and qualitative data. While quantitative data focuses on the numerical measurement and analysis between variables, qualitative data examines the social processes that give rise to the relationships, interactions, and constraints of the inquiry.