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FROM NARROWED TOPIC TO QUESTIONS

The key to research is a good question. You need to move beyond compiling data and reorganizing it and then reporting on what you found out. You need to analyse the information to reach the answer to your question.

Once you determine a topic that you believe to be both interesting and relevant, you'll be ready to begin the process of searching out specific sources and collecting information. However, you want to avoid simply reporting information, and the best way to do this is to ask questions, to find a purpose for your research. While it is true that you may learn much from seeking out and reporting information, you will nonetheless only be reporting information. IB considers this kind of writing unsuitable for the extended essay. Rather, candidates are expected to examine a problem or issue in depth, adding both analysis and evaluation. If you cannot generate questions worth asking about your topic, then you will be unable to offer any significant answers that might change how you or your readers think about your topic. "Questions are critical because the starting point of good research is always what you do not know or understand but feel you must" (Booth, 1995, p. 39). Having a good set of questions will keep you from getting off track as you search for information.

1. Ask the standard factual questions involving who, what, when, and where. Answers to these questions will provide you and your reader with the necessary background information needed to understand your topic. First off, you should just write out your questions and not worry about answering them. Just ask the questions.

2. Ask interpretive or analytical questions about your topic. These questions will be generated from your information gathering—reading widely on a topic of interest. These are questions that result from your own analysis, critical thinking and wonder.
For example, you might consider asking questions that:
•      Divide the topic into component parts and evaluate the relationships among them.
                    o What are the different parts of the story of Louis Reil, and how do they relate to one another?

•      Identify your topic as a component of a larger system.
                    o What role does Louis Riel play in Canadian history? Who told the stories? Who listened? How does the nationality of the teller affect the story?

•      Determine solutions for problems.
                   o How can global warming be slowed?

•      Compare or contrast elements in your topic with one of a similar nature.
                   o In what ways have [selected] civil wars been alike for the working class of each country?

Your factual questions—who, what, when, where—are important, but to begin putting together a thesis question or statement, you'll need to focus on questions that ask how or why. In other words, you should be looking for a problem. Don't confuse having a topic with having a problem to solve. If you lack a focus—and certainly questions can help you develop your focus—then you will keep gathering more and more information and not know when to stop. Writing and asking questions that relate to your topic will take you beyond information reporting.

To help you through the questioning process, try the following exercise.

Practice Exercise: Writing Purposeful Questions

Step I. Name your topic. Early in your research, describe your work in one sentence. Use adjectives to describe your nouns.

                               I am learning about (or reading about, or studying)
                                                         Example: I am studying public funding for the arts.

Step 2. Suggest a question. Try to describe your research by adding an indirect question that specifies something about your topic.
                             I am studying because (in order to) I want to find out (who, what, when, where, whether, why, or how)
     Example: I am studying public funding for the arts because I want to find out how accessible the arts are to those people who are members of the "working poor."

Direct Question: How accessible are the arts to those people who are members of the working poor?

Step 3. Add a rationale. Take your questioning one step further by adding a second indirect question aimed at determining your rationale.

                             I am studying because I want to find out in order to understand (how, why, or whether)
   Example: I am studying public funding for the arts because I want to find out how accessible the arts are to those people who are members of the "working poor in order to understand whether our tax dollars support cultural enrichment for all citizens regardless of their socio-economic status.

Direct Question: How is our tax dollars used to support (find) cultural enrichment for all citizens regardless of their socio-economic status?

Step 4. Repeat the process. Now, repeat steps 1-3 as often as it takes for you to write enough detail to believe in what you are researching, know what you want to find out, and understand your reason for undertaking your research. Oh—and in between your attempts to work through these steps—have someone read your answers. This will force you to stay on track and keep working.
**When you can adequately state the "because I want to find out" portion of your topic, you have determined your reason/purpose for studying and writing about it.**

Be aware that this is a critical yet difficult step in the research process. You cannot write a full statement of purpose/rationale until you have gathered and read some solid information on your topic. You must gather a sound working knowledge of your topic before you are going to know what to do with it. Once you have done so, you'll almost be ready to write your thesis statement/question.

Tutorial on the Research Process by William Badke of Trinity Western University.