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Research Lab

Session Information

Research Lab I: Wednesday, 9/18/19

12:30-1:30pm (LL 134) with Professor Josefine Smith

5:30-6:30pm (LL 134) with Professor Christy Fic

Learning Outcomes

Upon completion of this Research Lab, students will be able to:

  • Determine an appropriate topic based on discipline and scope of assignment
  • Understand the fundamentals of managing a research project

Creating a Research Plan

Tackling an original research project involves a set of skills you may not have had the chance to fully develop before now. While you have previously relied on other scholars’ ideas and findings to write your papers, you now need to set up your own study, determine what information you need to tell the story you want to tell, do your own analysis of a carefully selected set of sources, and critically reflect upon your work throughout this process.

Research is iterative – you will need to revisit your research plan over the course of the semester and make adjustments as you refine your topic, hunt down data/sources that may or may not exist, and question the limitations of the existing literature.

A research plan is a living document that researchers use to organize their thoughts on a research project. Creating a research plan will help you make the transition from writing “research papers” where you synthesize the work of other scholars – to planning, conducting, and writing up an original research project. Your plan will evolve as your project develops; it is not a one-time thing.

Selecting a Topic



If you find that your topic is too broad for the confines of your assignment consider these questions:

What?: Are there different aspects or sides to the topic? Are there multiple viewpoints? Why is it an important question?

Who?: Which groups are affected by the topic area in question? Who is involved in the discussion? Is culture an aspect?

When?: Is this topic a contemporary concern, a question that affects people today? Is it a topic that can be explored across time period? Is it a historical concern?

Where?: Is the topic confined to a specific geographic location? Does it affect one area more than another, or is it universal?

If you find that your topic is too narrow for the confines of your assignment consider these questions:

Currency: Is your topic too current? Can you expand or shift the time period?

Related Issues: Are there related issues that would improve your argument? Do the variables or concepts you are considering impact other people, places or attitudes?

Generalize:  If you are looking at a particular group, individual or place, can you bring others into your research? Can you expand your area? Are there similar groups you can include?

For background sources, refer to the subject guide for your discipline:

Developing a Research Question

Formulate questions that narrow your topic, reducing what might be your original grand question, to manageable portions. Your research question should be narrow, specific, and answerable. Eventually, your question should be refined based on a review of the literature in your discipline.

You may find it helpful to express or ask your question as a relation between two or more variables.

Note that a hypothesis is a tentative answer to a research question - an expected but as of yet unconfirmed relationship between two or more variables.

Singleton, R. A. and Straits, B. C. (2005). Approaches to social research. New York: Oxford University Press.