Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.
Research Guides | Library | Amherst College

The Research Process

Types of Questions

They are many types of questions you can ask about your topic. 

  • Ask about the history of your topic.
    • example: How have anti-smoking movements changed public opinion over time?
  • Ask about how your topic fits into the context of a larger structure.
    • What role does smoking cessation play in healthy lifestyle behaviors?
  • Ask how your topic can be categorized.
    • How do internet-based smoking cessation programs compare to traditional group therapy interventions?
  • Turn positive questions into negative ones.
    • Why haven't pharmacotherapies been effective for long-term smoking cessation?
  • Ask what if, or other speculative questions.
    • Can cognitive-behavioral treatments improve smoking cessation outcomes?
  • Ask questions suggested by your sources or reading.

Adapted from The Craft of Research, by W.C. Booth, G.G. Colomb, and J. M. Williams

Moving from Topic to Research Question

The following steps can help you transition from a topic to a research question:

​1. Define the topic area. In a sentence or two, describe your broad topic or area of research.

  • Smoking cessation

2. Describe the problemIn a sentence or two, describe a problem that could be addressed in your topic or area of research.

  • Smokers often relapse because of complex physical and psychological factors.

3. Specify the gap and justify the investigationWhat is unknown or unresolved? Why should we bother investigating it?

  • We don’t know what combination of physical and psychological factors is most often associated with smoking relapse.

4. Create the research question. 

a. Brainstorm as many questions as you can think of that relate to your research topic/problem/gap. Try starting questions with what, why, when, where, who, and how; in general, avoid questions that will result in only “yes” or “no” answers.

b. Draft a primary question: Do you see one main question emerging from the list above? If not, try doing some additional reading or thinking, or talk to your professor.

  • How do the physiological and psychological effects of smoking make it difficult for young adults to quit smoking?

c. ​Draft secondary research questions: What information do you need to gather to answer your primary question?

  • Before we can answer the question of “how” physiological and psychological effects make it difficult to quit smoking, we need to identify what the key effects are.

Adapted with permission from the University of Guelph Libraries