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Starting Your Research Project: Define your Research Question

Tips on starting Your Research Project

Research Question

Guiding Questions


What is the broader topic you are interested in?


What is the specific area of interest you have (art piece / period, product, specific group or cultural question)?


What kinds of questions have not been asked before?


What specific issue needs to be studied or answered to help you make an original contribution or project?


How to define your research question / topic?

  • Research Question: A good research question can be answered, is researchable, feasible, and contributes to narrow/close the gap in the literature through an original or novel contribution. Again, it is important to remember that the contribution does not need to be “life-changing” or “earth-shattering”. Most research is incremental and therefore one contributes by adding bits and pieces to a broader, larger global puzzle. 
  • Research Topic: This refers to the broader topic one is interested in. For example, some students are interested in gender theory (Judith Butler) or Marxism and the role of advertising (Guy Debord). It is important to be broad in deciding what kinds of issues you want to research (for example, psychology in Design, Gender in Art). Then you can begin focusing on a specific area of interest (the role of gender in performance art, the psychology of typography).
  • Research Interests: These refer to more narrowly defined sections or parts of a broader research topic. Specific research interests lie in particular critical theories or artists' work. Some people may find the notions of “interest” and “topic” interchangeable. However the topic is a broader area of work, whereas Interest is specific to the researcher. For example, a topic of interest could be Gender in Art, but more specifically a research interest could be how the feminine is represented in 21st Century performance work in Ireland.
  • A good method to define your research interests is using a mind map: 




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  • Gap in the Literature: The gap in the literature refers to that specific niche where your research may lie. The unanswered questions. The broader realm (narrower than the research interest, but broader than a research question) where you have a wide range of questions to ask.
  • Originality: This property of research work refers to the novelty, to how and why is a new analysis worthy of study. Generally, what students are asked to think about when trying to understand whether their work is original is: “how is it that nobody or few people had thought about this particular topic and interest and issue before in the way you are approaching it?”  You can be original by looking at an older dataset with new theories, developing a new theory, or assembling a new dataset (Dr. Michael Horowitz). 
  • Ref: Raul Pacheco-Vega, PhD