How to Begin: Research Starts with a Question

One of the problems students often have with research is that they start with an answer instead of a question. For example, suppose you are writing a research paper on the subject of cloning. One of your early tasks will be to decide on a thesis statement--a proposition stated as a conclusion which you will then demonstrate or "prove" in your paper.

You probably have at least a vague opinion on the subject of cloning, or you wouldn't have chosen it as your research topic. The problem is that too often, writers begin by trying to form a thesis statement before asking any questions. The thesis might be something like this:

  • Cloning research should be limited to non-human cloning     or
  • The government should fund cloning research for treatment of human diseases.

These sound like pretty good thesis statements, right?
But Wait!
Should cloning research really be limited? Why? And if it should be limited, is this really the right limitation? Should the government be responsible for funding the research--or should private industry pay the bill? Who currently pays for cloning research? In fact, what research is already being done? How much do you really know about the subject of cloning? Where did your opinion come from?

If an opinion is refined into a thesis statement without being questioned first, the research effort is limited to finding information that "proves" what you already think. Your bias may cause you to ignore or misinterpret valuable resources, and--even more important--you won't learn very much because you won't have done any real research.

That's why research should always begin with a question--not an answer to a question that hasn't even been asked. So how do you start asking questions? Here are some suggestions to help you get started.