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BUSN/ECON 380: Research Methods in Business/Economics

Resources for SIPs

Your librarians have created a general SIP Research Guide to help you with:

  • Organization
  • Library Research
  • Understanding Annotated Bibliographies and Literature Reviews
  • Finding Statistics and Data
  • Writing and Citing Resources
  • Presentation Resources
  • Finding previous SIPs


Before you start a large research project, be sure to do background research. Read textbooks, encyclopedias, and check out relevant Wikipedia pages. Reference sources can help you determine the scope of your project, learn new keywords, and become generally familiar with the subject area and terminology.

Kelly Frost, LibrarianRobin Rank, Librarian

Angela Bates, LibrarianLauren McMullan, LibrarianPeter Butts, Librarian

We have 5 reference librarians ready to help via Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or email.

We can help you brainstorm keywords, navigate the databases, track down articles, and so much more!

Free Citation Management Software

Creating a Research Question

What is a research question?

A research question is the question around which you center your research. It should be:

  • Clear and focused.
  • Arguable. Your question is open to debate rather than a report of facts.
  • Complex. Your question is not answerable with a simple “yes” or “no,” and requires analysis of ideas and sources

Why is a research question essential to the research process?

A well-developed research question helps writers avoid the “all-about” paper and instead support a specific, arguable thesis.

Steps to developing a research question:

  1. Choose an issue that you are curious and/or passionate about. Most professional researchers focus on topics that genuinely interests them. An example of a general topic might be “Slavery in the American South” or “Films of the 1930s.”
  2. Do preliminary research on your general topic. See what’s already been written to help you narrow your focus. What issues are scholars and researchers discussing? What questions occur to you as you read these sources?
  3. Start asking questions. Ask “how” and “why” questions about your general topic. For example, “Why were slave narratives effective tools in working toward the abolishment of slavery?” or “How did the films of the 1930s reflect or respond to the conditions of the Great Depression?”
  4. Refine your question. 
    • Is your research question clear and understandable? 
    • Is your research question focused? Research questions must be specific enough to be well covered in your paper.
    • Is your research question complex? Research questions should not be answerable with a simple “yes” or “no,” or by easily-found facts.  They require both research and analysis. They often begin with “How” or “Why.”
  5. Begin your research. After you’ve come up with a question, think about the possible paths your research could take. What sources should you consult as you seek answers to your question? What research process will ensure that you find a variety of perspectives and responses to your question?

Sample Research Questions

Unclear: How should social networking sites address the harm they cause?
Clear: What action should social networking sites like Instagram and Facebook take to protect users’ personal information and privacy?

The unclear version of this question doesn’t specify which social networking sites or suggest what kind of harm the sites might be causing. It also assumes that this “harm” is proven and/or accepted. The clearer version specifies sites (Instagram and Facebook), the type of potential harm (privacy issues), and who may be experiencing that harm (users). A strong research question should never leave room for ambiguity or interpretation.

UnfocusedWhat is the effect on the environment from global warming?
FocusedWhat is the most significant effect of glacial melting on the lives of penguins in Antarctica?

The unfocused research question is so broad that it couldn’t be adequately answered in a book-length piece, let alone a standard college-level paper. The focused version narrows down to a specific effect of global warming (glacial melting), a specific place (Antarctica), and a specific animal that is affected (penguins). It also requires the writer to take a stance on which effect has the greatest impact on the affected animal. When in doubt, make a research question as narrow and focused as possible.

Too simple: How are doctors addressing diabetes in the U.S.?
Appropriately Complex:  What main environmental, behavioral, and genetic factors predict whether Americans will develop diabetes, and how can these commonalities be used to aid the medical community in prevention of the disease?

The simple version of this question can be looked up online and answered in a few factual sentences; it leaves no room for analysis. The more complex version is written in two parts; it is thought provoking and requires both significant investigation and evaluation from the writer. As a general rule of thumb, if a quick Google search can answer a research question, it’s likely not very effective.

Adapted from George Mason University Writing Center. (2018). How to write a research question. Retrieved from

Databases by Subject Area

These databases pull articles from a wide variety of disciplines.