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Stage 2: Identifying your research questions

Why is this stage important?

Your interest in your research questions will help carry you through the dissertation process and may become the jumping off point/ starting place for future research work or the next step in your career. Be sure to take the time you need for defining and refining your research question(s).

Step 1: Brainstorm possible research questions. Be creative. This is your chance to experiment with a variety of different questions you might pursue.

  1. Try using various brainstorming techniques
  2. Reflect back on your master's thesis, coursework, and seminar papers

Step 2: Do some preliminary research.

  1. Search Digital Dissertations and read the abstracts to identify research questions that have already been pursued in your field
  2. Search an index in your field to find relevant articles and focus on the last sections covering recommended further research
    1. Go to the University of Minnesota Twin Cities Libraries' Article Indexes and search by your field

  3. Search an index in your field that includes conference proceedings and review titles and abstracts
    1. Go to the University of Minnesota Twin Cities Libraries' Article Indexes and search index descriptions for "conference papers," and "conference proceedings"
    2. Go to the University Libraries' catalog, MNCAT, and choose the Conference Proceedings Catalog

Step 3: Narrow down your ideas to your top two or three.

  1. Be careful about research feasibility: If you are doing empirical research, your research question must be appropriate for the subjects you have to work with
  2. Be careful about broad questions: Your research question cannot be so broad that you can't adequately cover it

Step 4: Discuss with all your advisors, other faculty, peers.

Step 5: Through this process, reach an agreement with your advisor on an initial set of research questions to guide your research. Note that as your research progresses, you might refine your questions.

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Last revised: January 09, 2015
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