How to Develop your Research Question

For this class you will write a research paper. In planning your research paper, you will need to select a topic that fits within this course and can be whittled down into a research question. This assignment is meant to start you on that process of identifying a research topic and developing a research question. You are expected to produce a question that you can answer with historical record and evidence.
To produce a good historical question, it must investigate a specific event or specific set of circumstances. The more specific you make your question the better it will be to answer. Broad questions are difficult to answer successfully. See the infographic listing the process of whittling down from topic to questions (How to Develop your Research Question).
Your question must be specific to time, specific to place, and specific to person or event. Your question must also not be an assessment question such as the following “Why did the French Revolution Start?” This is not clear, specific, or meaningfully answerable. You would spend countless volumes answering this and still not come up with a clear idea. Treat your historical question like you would a science experiment. You must limit your focus to a specific context and specific event so that you can use specific evidence to support your thesis.
You also need to be careful about your impact. Asking how did the French Revolution impact Europe in the nineteenth and twentieth century is quite broad. There’s no way that you could meaningfully answer this question in 8-10 pages. Think about how you can answer the question fully, considering the entire context you have identified in the space you have. This will give you a good framework for your question.
As you are likely not to get this one right the first time, you need to give some information for what you want to investigate. As you explain your thoughts, your instructor will be able to discuss with you your ideas to help you find your topic. The more clear and specific information you provide, the better your instructor can help you. This is really the focus of this assignment, to get some background information and understand a topic a little more broadly before digging deeper.
Note that part of this process is honing your question, so you may be asked to revise your work a few times to make sure you have an answerable question. Just know this is part of the process of developing your craft as a historian. You will have a chance to adjust your question in future assignments.
For this first assignment, focus your efforts on understanding the background of the topic well enough to ask a meaningful question. This is early in the course, so focus on describing the topic well. The question will come from your understanding of what stands out as missing or unavailable from the secondary readings.
• Research question:
o Shows a clear time and place.
o Identifies a clear event, person, concept.
o Specifically investigates cause and effect
 Has a catalyst and an impact that is being assessed.
o Is not overly broad (The Rise of Hitler, in any form or fashion, is too broad).
• Description of Topic
o Covers historical significance
 Small stories within big events (particular to general) and vice versa.
o Describes historical context
o Relevance to class (European history, focus on Europeans, within the nineteenth and twentieth centuries).
o Area that needs more explanation
• Total assignment will be at least 300 words
o Description of topic and question itself will factor into this total. Excludes any citations.
• Turabian formatting.
• Citations must be used to cover information from other sources. At least 2 citations and 2 sources are required.
• Secondary or primary sources. No encyclopedias. They are a good place to get ideas, but not a good reference.
Remember, this question will serve as the basis for your final paper. You’re allowed to shift it around, but remember you want to keep building off momentum to finish it.
Note: Your assignment will be checked for originality via the Turnitin plagiarism tool.

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