2.2 Using a Topic
to Generate Questions
Research requires a question for which no ready answer is available.
What do you want to know about a topic? Asking a topic as a question (or
series of related questions) has several advantages:
- Questions require answers.
A topic is hard to cover completely
because it typically encompasses too many related issues; but a
question has an answer, even if it is ambiguous or controversial.
Drugs and Crime
Could liberalization of drug laws reduce crime in
- Questions give you a way of evaluating answers.
A clearly stated
question helps you decide which information will be useful. A broad
topic may tempt you to stash away information that may be helpful,
but you're not sure how. A question also makes it easier to know
when you have enough information to stop your research.
- A clear open-ended question calls for real research and
Asking a question with no direct answer makes research and
writing more meaningful. Assuming that your research may solve
significant problems or expand the knowledge base of a discipline
involves you in more meaningful activity of community and
Developing a Question
Developing a question from a broad topic can be done in many
ways. Two such effective ways are brainstorming and concept mapping.
brain·storm·ing noun: 1. A method of shared
problem solving in which all members of a group spontaneously
contribute ideas. 2. A similar process undertaken by a person to
solve a problem by rapidly generating a variety of possible
Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000
Brainstorming is a free-association technique of spontaneously
listing all words, concepts, ideas, questions, and knowledge about a
topic. After making a lengthy list, sort the ideas into categories.
This allows you to inventory your current awareness of a topic,
decide what perspectives are most interesting and/or relevant, and
decide in which direction to steer your research.
con·cept map·ping noun phrase: 1. A process, focused on a topic, in
which group or individual brainstorming produces a visual graphic
that represents how the creator(s) thinks about a subject, topic,
etc. It illustrates how knowledge is organized for the group or
You may create a concept map as a means of brainstorming; or,
following your brainstorm, you may take the content you have
generated and create your map from it . Concept maps may be
elaborate or simple and are designed to help you organize your
thinking about a topic, recognize where you have gaps in your
knowledge, and help to generate specific questions that may guide
Combining brainstorming and concept mapping (brainmapping, if you
will) can be a productive way to begin your thinking about a topic
area. Try to establish as your goal the drafting of a topic
definition statement which outlines the area you will be researching
and about which you will present your findings.