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WAMS Research Guide: Developing Research Questions

Tutorials and links to help you navigate the research process successfully.

Print KWL Graphic Organizers

Web and other Graphic Organizers

Online Tools


Pre-searching is investigation to become familiar with potential topics for your in depth research.

                   students researching        

  Image by sc_association_school_librarians

Explore topics by following these suggestions:

  • Brainstorm ideas that you already know or would like to know about.  Jot down your ideas (using a KWL chart is useful!)

  • Read a general encyclopedia or other reference source , print or online, like World Book Student or World Book Advanced (WAMS Databases) about your potential topic(s).  Jot down ideas.

  • Visit the Media Center (or your public library) and look up your topic in the online catalog.  What library materials are available on the topic?  Skim over the table of contents in one or more of these books/eBooks.  Jot down interesting ideas.

  • Use the InfoTrac Student Edition database (WAMS Databases) to see what magazine, newspaper and reference articles are available on the topic.  How has InfoTrac Student Edition organized the topic?  Jot down interesting sub-topics.

  • Check with the media specialist or your teacher for other suggestions.



Essential or Focus Questions

Essential Questions about your topic help guide you in your research.


question mark                                                                                                                

As you do your pre-searching and fill in your KW(H)L(S) chart or jot down ideas, take a look at the (W) column or what you want to learn.  The particular areas of your topic that you want to learn more about can lead you to the Essential or Focus Questions that will drive your inquiry research. 

List these essential questions about your topic. Also consider what your intended audience would want answered (particularly if you are working on a persuasive speech or essay). 

Use the Five Ws and the H:  Who, What, When, Where, Why and How to create your essential questions. 

For example: While pre-searching the topic, women's rights, I might add to my "want to learn" column:

  • causes of beginning of women's rights movement
  • people who led the women's rights movement

From these sub-topic areas that I want to learn more about, I can develop the following essential questions:

  • What events or actions  led to the beginning of the women's rights movement?
  • Who were the major leaders of the women's rights movement?

The essential  questions you create will guide you in the research process to identify useful sources of information, develop keywords for online searching, create a thesis statement and determine what information should be noted for use in your final product. Identifying essential questions is an important step in any inquiry research work.

Narrowing the Topic

Narrowing Your Topic


Many topics are very general and need to be narrowed to make them more manageable and easier to research.  Consider the information you have already found about your topic.  What ideas appear over and over?  Select a focus which is interesting to you and which has appeared in several of the resources you have explored.

Use a Web Graphic To Narrow A Topic:

Use the ideas or sub-topics you have brainstormed in your pre-searching and write them in a web graphic organizer.  What aspects of the topic interest you the most?

 Let's use the topic of the country of Australia as an example:

Using Questions to Narrow A Topic:

Try asking questions about this area(s), using the same Five Ws and the H strategy.

  • When did Australia become an independent nation?
  • Why does Australia have animals found nowhere else in the world?
  •  What sports are played in Australia?
  •  Where are some interesting places to visit in Australia?
  • Who are some important people in Australia?
  • How is the country of Australia governed?

 After making your web and thinking about the topic ideas, select only one or at most two of these areas to focus on in your research. Try asking questions about THIS focus, using the same strategy (Five Ws and the H.)

Where are some interesting places to visit in Australia?

  • Who are the aborigines and where do they live?
  • What are important historical sites to visit?
  • Where will I find the best places to scuba and snorkel?
  • When is the best time to visit Australia?
  • Why does Australia have so many different cultures?
  • How will I get to Australia?