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History 111 - Women in American History - Kronbeck

How to Develop a Research Question

Research is a continuous process of asking questions, finding answers, and asking more questions. You should develop questions to guide your research on your topic.


You don't want to investigate the entirety of your subject area, you want to focus on one or two areas only. For example, if writing on religion, you may choose to focus on:

  • How did the Puritan religion frame the role for women in America?
  • How did the Great Awakening specifically give space for women to expand their role in the family and or community?
  • How did the religion (pick one of your own), either inhibit or expand women’s role in society?

Historian Robert C. Williams suggests that a research question might:

  • "ask how or why an event happened (causation, explanation)"
  • "ask what the consequences were of a particular event"
  • "discuss the intellectual origins of a particular idea"
  • "ask what the cultural context of an event was";
  • "ask whether or not an individual was responsible for a certain act"
  • "ask about the social history of a political event"
  • "quantify broad trends in a society at a particular time" (52)

Source: Williams, Robert C. The Historian's Toolbox: A Student's Guide to the Theory and Craft of History. Second ed. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 2007.

Watch the video above about how to develop a good research question for history (the video uses the term "inquiry question", but it's the same idea).

The video mentions "historical knowledge skills". Here are some examples of historical knowledge skills:

Historical Knowledge Skill Explanation
Causes What things led to or caused the historical event?
Change What was different as a result of this event or person?
Consequence What happened as a result of the historical event or person
Contestability How have people interpreted this event or person differently over time?
Continuity What continued unchanged, or stayed the same?
Motive The reasons people provided for their actions
Significance Why is it important?

From: History Skills 

The Essential Guide to Writing History Essays

See chapter 3.1.: "Questions Historians Ask"

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