Conducting a Literature Review: Research Question

Interactive learning module that guides you through the process of identifying, evaluating, and using scholarly information to research and write a literature review. URL:


After completing this section, you will be able to develop a research question and identify key concepts that describe your information need(s).

  • Read why it is important to develop a good research question.
  • Watch a short video to see how concept mapping can help you to identify key concepts that you will use to search for information on your topic.
  • Develop a concept map using the worksheet or one of the online mind mapping tools in the Activity box.

Develop a Research Question

Before you can begin your literature review, you will need to select a topic. It is helpful to think about your research topic as a question. For example, instead of a topic like "diversity in the workplace," you could ask, "How does a diverse workplace impact job satisfaction?"

A good research question is manageable in scope - not too broad, but not too narrow. If your topic is too broad, you may become overwhelmed with the amount of information and find it difficult to organize your ideas. If your topic is too narrow, you may not be able to find enough information to include in your literature review.

It is often helpful to start with a broad idea, then narrow your focus by brainstorming related ideas. If you have a general area of interest, you can think about various issues in that general subject area. Do any of your ideas present a puzzle or problem that you are interested in investigating? Are there issues that make you wonder about causes or consequences?

As you brainstorm your topic, you may find it useful to document your ideas using a concept map (watch the videos to learn more about them). As you begin to investigate and evaluate scholarly literature on your topic, you may find it necessary to revise your original research question based on what you learn. Be sure to expand your literature search to include any new concepts you may identify along the way.

Your research question should be clear, focused, and complex enough to allow for adequate research and analysis. Most importantly, your research question should be interesting to you - you will be spending a great deal of time researching and writing so you should be eager to learn more about it.

Your problem statement or research question:

  • Interests the reader.
  • Describes exactly what you intend to show.
  • Explains why your problem is worth addressing.

A good problem statement or research question:

  • Comes from a broad subject area that interests you.
  • Is narrow enough to allow you to become a local expert on it.
  • Is related to ideas that interests other researchers.
  • Has available information resources.


Use the concept map handout or one of the free, mind mapping applications to help you brainstorm and develop a research question.

Concept Mapping

Learn how concept or mind maps can help your develop a research topic or question.

Ready to Brainstorm? Try this!

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