Exploring and Refining Your Topic

Ask the right questions!

Explore your topic: ask the right questions for the type of paper or project you need.

A. Compare/Contrast

  • What is ____ similar to? In what ways?
  • What is ____ different from? In what ways?
  • ____ is superior (inferior) to what? How?
  • ____ is most unlike (like) what? How?

EXAMPLE of a compare/contrast assignment: Compressed air automobiles versus Gasoline powered cars, versus other alternative "Green" fuel sources.

B. Journalistic questions

  • Who?
  • What?
  • Where?
  • When?
  • Why?
  • How?
  • So What?

EXAMPLE: Who leaked sensitive information about security issues to the congress and the press? When was the leak done, what was their reason, and when did the administration find out? Why would the leak have happened when it did? What was the motivation for the leak? How will the leak affect _____'s election/re-election chances? How will this affect the general public's attitude about the issue and candidate(s)?

C. Common topic areas
What other topic is similar to my topic and what do I know about that?

D. Definition

  • How does a comprehensive college-level dictionary define ____?
  • What do I mean by ____?
  • What group of things does ____ belong to?
  • How is ____ different from other things?
  • What parts can ____ be divided into?
  • Does ____ mean something now that it didn't years ago? If so, what?
  • What other words mean about the same as ____?
  • What are some concrete examples of ____?
  • When is the meaning of ____ misunderstood?

EXAMPLE: Do I grasp the differences and similarities between Commune, Community, and Europena Economic Community?

E. Relationships

  • What causes ____?
  • What are the effects of ____?
  • What is the purpose of ____?
  • What is the consequence of ____?
  • What comes before (after) ____?

EXAMPLE: Acid Rain

F. Testimony

  • What have I heard people say about ____?
  • What are some facts of statistics about ____?
  • Can I quote any scholarly articles, proverbs, poems, or sayings about ____?
  • Are there any laws about ____?

EXAMPLE: Should doctors be allowed to prescribe medications which would end a person's life?

G. Circumstances

  • Is ____ possible or impossible? (based on what peer reviewed articles, expert opinions?)
  • What qualities, conditions, or circumstances make ____ possible or impossible?
  • When did ____ happen previously, and under what conditions?
  • Who can do ____?
  • If ____ starts, what makes it end?
  • What would it take for ____ to happen now?
  • What would prevent ___ from happening?

EXAMPLE: Could the United States suffer another major stock market crash, triggering another Great Depression?