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A good RQ is researchable, and a good researcher knows to modify an RQ when enough (good) information isn't available. You can't know for sure that your RQ will work until you begin researching. You can, however, make sure that you start the research process with a well-formed RQ.
Can the answer to your question be logically or legally obtained?
A question that cannot be answered will only make researching more difficult.
- E.g. What are the pros and cons of evolution? can become: How does teaching of evolution in public schools affect children who are raised in religions that embrace creationism?
- E.g. How many girls are forced into prostitution each year? can become: What are the traits that make girls vulnerable for being forced into prostitution?
Can your question be answered within your page limit?
A question that is too broad can't be answered in 5, 10, or 25 pages.
- E.g. How are environmental disasters being fought? can become: How effective are the current practices for cleaning oil spills?
Is your question too narrow?
A question is not researchable if the "right answer" can be found too easily, or if it is too specific to be answered by available sources.
- E.g. Does Sweden have nationalized healthcare? can become: What was the political process that enabled Sweden to establish nationalized healthcare?
- E.g. How did the UAW affect the economy in Dayton, Ohio in 1973? can become: What influence did the automobile labor unions have on the economy in the early 1970s?
When it comes to research, you won't know what's out there until you start.
You know what you need (8 sources, 5 scholarly), and you probably have a good idea of what you want from your sources (5 scholarly sources that perfectly support your arguments, and 2 good newspaper articles, and 1 great website), but until you begin researching you won't know what's out there.
Often, the hardest part of research is finding the right words to get you what you need. You can eliminate some of these "unknown unknowns" by turning your RQ into a search strategy before you begin:
Identify key concepts:
- "Plastic bag pollution
- "ban (on plastic bags)"
- "(plastic) bag deposit program"
Translate concepts into language of researcher:
- Make a list of terms that are related to your key concepts. Think of other ways to describe your problem.
- Generating a list of synonyms will help you think about the different ways your problem may be discussed by researchers.
- e.g. Scientists may use the word polyethylene in place of the word plastic
Establish some leads:
- Use what you already know about your key concepts to make a list of things that you can search.
- e.g. cities and countries with bans on bags to create a list of keywords that can be added to a search.
Single out what you don't want:
- By making a list of the things you want (e.g. states with bottle deposit programs) you can begin to single out keywords that you don't want.
- e.g. California, Iowa, Oregon, etc.
- Alternatively, you can make a list of things you know you don't want.
- e.g. You don't want information about mineral deposits left behind in bottles of water.
"Explore" in Action
Explore the image below -- mouseover the targets to learn more about the process of turning your RQ or thesis statement into a search strategy.