2. Planning: Research Question and Topic

click to view the audio interview about PlanningWhether you are preparing your first discussion post or starting your dissertation, your research will go more smoothly, take less time, and be of higher quality if you use a systematic approach. Just like a vacation, it helps to start with a little planning.

Read the Assignment
Take time to carefully read the assignment or requirements. Instructors create assignments to receive the kind of research and writing they want to read. The assignment will help you to determine the length, focus, format, and purpose of your research and writing.

  • When is it due? How long is it?
  • How much time should you devote to this assignment? When can you schedule time to do your research?
  • What strengths do you bring? Is there anything you need to learn to successfully complete the assignment?
  • How many sources do you need? Are there specific types sources that need to be included (e.g. peer-reviewed articles, no websites, etc.)?
Be sure to contact your instructor early if you have questions.

Purpose, Audience
To make your research process as meaningful as possible, determine your research parameters. This includes: purpose, audience, scope, and topic. Each of these parameters will have an effect on where you do your research, what sources you choose, and how much time you need to spend on research. Often students begin research without these parameters in mind and waste valuable time by doing research that doesn't address the purpose, audience, scope or topic.

Purpose Audience
What is your purpose for doing research? Do you need sources and information to:
  • Increase your own understanding? Support your first hand knowledge?
  • Support your opinions or written arguments?
  • Teach others something they do not know?
  • Support a plan for a change in policy or process? Argue for or against a course, action, or position?
Who is your intended audience?
  • A co-worker? Your boss?
  • Your instructor?
  • Your peers or coursemates?
  • Your comprehensive exam reviewers?
  • Your dissertation committee?

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