Generating a Research Question

Create a Concept Map


A concept map involves taking a broad topic and visually breaking it down into smaller topics to find connections between concepts and create manageable areas of study for research questions. A concept map can also help you organize your ideas and generate search terms.

Watch this video by Appalachian State University to learn about using concept maps to help with research.

Watch Concept Mapping Video

The 5 W's


Brainstorm questions about your topic. Think about the 5 W's - whowhatwhenwhere, and why. These questions are important because they cannot have a simple "yes" or "no" answer. This is how you can begin to think about keywords for your topic. For example, if you think about "when," are you referring to the past, the present, or the future?

When researching the vegetarian food culture in the United States, you could ask:

  • Who are vegetarians in the United States? 
  • What foods are vegetarians more or less likely to buy or grow?
  • When did vegetarianism become popular in the United States? 
  • Where do vegetarians tend to shop for groceries? 
  • Why do people in the United States choose to become vegetarians?

Use Reference Sources


Another strategy for approaching your topic is to use reference sources, such as encyclopedias. By using reference sources, you will learn the scholarly language about your topic in order to identify an interesting question and keywords. You can locate reference sources through Library Search using the “Reference Entries” resource type filter.

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Screenshot of "Resource Type" filters available in Library Search. The "Reference Entries" filter is enclosed in a red rectangle to indicate its location on the page. Other "Resource Type" filters on this page include: "Articles," “Dissertations,” “Government Documents,” “Datasets, "Books," "Reviews," "Book Chapters," “Reports,” “Journals,” “Conference Proceedings,” and "Maps."