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ENGL 101/102

This handy libguide provides support and suggested resources for English Composition.

Background information

Constructing a Research Question and Exploring Your Topic


At this stage of your research, you’re exploring. What sources can help you learn more about your topic, so that you can narrow it down into a “working research question” with a clear purpose?

Use this page to learn about sources to help you gather information that you can use to write your proposal -- or help you learn more about aspects of your research as you continue to discover more about your topic.


What Makes a Good Research Question?

Forming a good research question is important before you begin

searching for resources because it can determine the difficulty of

finding information for your topic. There are several characteristics

that good research questions have:


  • Clear: it provides enough specifics that one’s audience can understand it without a need for an additional explanation
  • Focused: it’s narrow enough that it can be answered in the space the writing task allows 
  • Concise: it’s expressed in the fewest possible words 
  • Complex: it doesn’t have a ‘yes’ or ‘no answer, and requires a synthesis and analysis of ideas and sources prior to composing an answer
  • Arguable: It’s potential answers are open to debate rather than accepted facts


Here are suggestions to create a more focused research topic:


  • Demographic: Try limiting your search to a specific group based off an age range, gender, neurodivergent population, sexual orientation, mental illness, physical handicap, and/or ethnic population. A combination of these groups can further narrow down your topic. (i.e. LGBTQIA teenagers, women with autism, physical therapy among indigenous groups, etc.)


  • Geographical: How does your topic impact a country in Africa? Central America? Maybe a specific city in the world, or a state in the USA?


  • Animals: Is your topic related to a particular species?


  • Society: Avoid using this word altogether and try to think of one aspect of society, such as employment, economy, education, communities, etc


  • Technology: Also avoid this word and think of a particular technological device/software instead, such as smartphones, A.I., social media, etc.




Best Bets -- Library databases for background information

Examples of finding background information

Example 1

if you are exploring a research question on the impact of technology on some aspect of society,  start by searching and exploring sources:

Technology and Society from the Opposing Viewpoints database. This resource gives a lot of narrower topic ideas on this very broad subject

Example 2

if you are interested in learning more about social media use and mental health, you might search Academic Search Premier to see a wide variety of newspaper, magazine and research articles such as: 

Magazine article: 

Chen, A. (2018). Social Notworking: Is Generation Smartphone Really More Prone to Unhappiness? (Cover story). Scientific American Mind, 29(2), 18–21. 

Research article: 

Cingel, D. P., Lauricella, A. R., Taylor, L. B., Stevens, H. R., Coyne, S. M., & Wartella, E. (2022). U.S. adolescents’ attitudes toward school, social connection, media use, and mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic: Differences as a function of gender identity and school context. PLoS ONE, 17(10), 1–17. 

Example 3

If you are looking for information on barriers to adopting self-driving cars, search for books in the NJIT Library collection. Here are some examples of print and online library books on "autonomous vehicles": 

Product development within artificial intelligence, ethics and legal risk: exemplary for same autonomous vehicles

Autonomous vehicles: technologies, regulations and societal impacts

Autonorama: the illusory promise of high-tech driving



More strategies for finding background information

Search for books

Books can be a great source of background information. Search the NJIT Library for books on your topic -- both print and electronic. Go to the "Books" tab on the NJIT Library website.

Search for government information

The federal government is the largest publisher in the U.S. 

Append "" to a websearch to find information published by federal, state and local government agencies. The search "food waste" and on google finds background information from the USDA on this topic.

Search for organizations interested in your topic

What professional or trade organizations might have an interest in your topic? Are you writing about mental health and social media? The search mental health and social media organization turns up multiple organizations that are concerned with this issue.

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