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Law & Justice Research Guide

Tips for Narrowing Your Topic

Developing a Research Question

While there are many ways to develop a research question and establishing a process, the one we’re going to cover today involves three simple questions:

  • What am I interested in?
  • What don’t I know about it?
  • Why do I want to know that? 

Another way to frame it is through the phrase:

I am studying ______ to find out who/how/why ______ in order to understand who/how/why ______.

Finding Related Words and Phrases

Thinking about Your Question

We have a well-formed question to guide our research:

“Does prolonged exposure to violent video game lead to aggressive behavior in teenagers?”

Now, what should we do with it?

For now you can use it to create search queries for the various databases and resources you will be using during your research. It may be tempting just to type this question into a search box, but that won't yield the best results. You need to focus on the concepts at the heart of your question, and assess whether the results you receive contribute to answering the question you've designed.

Working backward from the question, our key terms are:

  • violent video games
  • aggressive behavior
  • & teenagers

We will definitely want to identify articles that contain all of these keywords, and a search query like "video games" AND "aggressive behavior" AND "teenagers" will definitely get us some of those. However, we will want to once again think of related terms and concepts to substitute into our queries to make sure that we're locating related articles that may use different terms for the same concepts. Some of the terms from the concept map we created earlier will likely be helpful here.

  • Video Games
    • Massively Multi-player Online Game
    • First-person shooter
    • console game
    • computer game
    • arcade game
  • Aggressive Behavior
    • Violence
    • Domestic violence
    • Bullying
    • Abusive
    • Cruel
  • Teenagers
    • High school students
    • College students
    • Young adults
    • Teens
    • Juvenile
    • Adolescent

Now we are ready to construct numerous search queries that will yield us results in a variety of databases and publications. As we search articles and read abstracts, it is likely that we'll identify additional synonyms and related concepts to add to this list. It's best to keep an active list of terms like this in case you're having little luck with searching— each database is a little different, and subtle changes to the language you use can often bring you very different results.

As you learn more about your topic through searching and reading articles, you may find that you can refine or adjust your research question even further.