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Ask Your Students a Good Question

Begin by formulating the question from which your students can construct their own research questions and then a thesis statement. Here are some ideas:

“WHICH ONE” questions ask students to collect information and make informed decisions. Instead of asking me to “do a report on Zimbabwe,” ask me to decide which country in southern Africa is the best place to work for one year. Instead of “Do a report on AIDS,” ask me which serious disease most deserves research funding.

“HOW” questions ask students to understand problems, to weigh options, perhaps from various points of view, and propose solutions. Instead of asking me to do a report on pollution, ask me to propose a solution to an environmental problem in my neighborhood. Ask me how I would invest a windfall of money.

“WHAT IF, or hypothetical questions ask students to use the knowledge they have to pose a hypothesis and consider options. Ask me “What if the Declaration of Independence abolished slavery?” or “What if the Germans hadn’t sunk the Lusitania?”

“SHOULD” questions ask students to make moral or practical decision based on evidence. Ask me, “Should we clone humans?” or “Should we discontinue trade with China?”

“WHY” questions ask students to understand cause and effect. “Why” helps us understand relationships; it helps us get to the essence of an issue. Ask me: “Why do people abuse children?” “Why is the mortality rate higher in one Third World country than another?”

(Adapted from: Valenza, Joyce Kasman. “For the Best Answers, Ask Tough Questions.” The Philadelphia Inquirer 19 Apr. 2000. 27 December 2011. <>)

Developing Research Questions

Write a Research Question

A RESEARCH QUESTION is a big question that includes many smaller, related questions. A research question clearly presents what you want to discover about your topic. The answer to a research question requires you to create a plan or course of action, or requires you to make a decision. It is never a simple answer, and it is always your own unique answer. The answer to your research question becomes your THESIS STATEMENT.

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