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Pick a Topic & Develop a Research Question

Research Tips

Writing an essay requires you to answer a research question.

How does _____ contribute to _____?  Or, What is the impact of ____ on ____? (What is the impact of poverty on mental health in adulthood? Does being raised in a single-parent household in Canada have an impact on children? What community programs help reduce family poverty?)

How you choose to answer your research question is up to you, but your response to the question should be backed by research that shows evidence to support or oppose the views being expressed.

Take keywords from your research question and formulate a search:

poverty "mental health" adult*
media OR technology youth OR adolescen* OR teen* Canada
"community program" OR "social services" senior OR geriatric poverty
youth OR adolescen* reserv* or communit* health
Writing a research essay is similar to telling a fact-based story. Think to yourself:

What do I want to tell my reader? A thesis should tell the purpose of the paper.

You would never build a house without a blue-print, so why would you write an essay without one? Build the scaffolding before filling in the details. Break out topics and sections first so you know where your paper is going, and you know your research needs. 

Identify your keywords before searching. Use a thesaurus to come up with synonyms for the same word to expand search results.

Find a good article? Check the citations or reference list and search OCtopus to find the articles used by the author.


  • Use KEYWORDS, avoid phrases that include filler words such as, of, the, it, if, are.
  • Words that contain multiple concepts require quotation marks to be processed as a PHRASE. For example, "Global Warming", "Child Welfare".
  • AND, OR, and NOT will improve your search results. These are BOOLEAN search terms used to join more than one search concept. 

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