Developing Research Questions

An effective research question will connect the text to critical elements to arrive at a deeper understanding and eventually an original interpretation.
You will develop a research question in two steps.
  • Step 1: After having read a significant amount of your primary source, you will develop a preliminary research question to guide the rest of your reading and the start of your critical source research.
  • Step 2: You will refine your research question once you have finished reading the primary text and evaluated several secondary sources. You will use this question to develop your thesis statement.

Examples of researchable questions from texts we have read and some we haven't:

Preliminary question: How does satire work in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?
  • Refined Question: How is satire an effective way to reveal societal flaws in Twain’s writing?
  • Possible Thesis: Mark Twain uses satire throughout the middle section of his novel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, to criticize society and reveal the flaws of Southern bourgeois.

Preliminary Question: How is the structure of May Swenson’s poetry related to an important theme?
  • Refined Question: How does May Swenson use of enjambment and fragmentation communicate the difficulties of perception and human relations?
  • Possible Thesis: Poet, May Swenson, uses enjambment and a deliberate fragmented architecture in her poems to communicate one of the central themes of her poetry--the complications of individual perception and the possible effects on specific human relationships.

Preliminary Question: Why does Michael Dorris tell A Yellow Raft in Blue Water backwards?
  • Refined Question: How does Michael Dorris’s use of overlapping narration in A Yellow Raft in Blue Water make a statement about the marginalization of womens' voices and by contrast, the essential roles they play as mothers?
  • Possible Thesis: By dividing the narration between three women of successive generations, he gives a new voice to women who have been marginalized and silenced by men and society.