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Research Guide: Research Process

Choosing a Research Topic

Developing your research topic is an evolving part of the research process. Learn more from this short video produced by the North Carolina State University Libraries

Video Source: "Picking Your Topic is Research," NC state University Libraries,

Learn More:

Choosing a Research Topic from Florida Gulf Coast University Library.  

Seneca Libraries: How Do I Narrow Down My Research Topic? A helpful FAQ from Seneca Libraries with tips on narrowing down a research topic. 

Selecting and Narrowing a TopicFrom the Indiana University Libraries' Research Essentials guide.


Literature Review Guide from the University of West Florida:

Open Access Journals

The Research Process

Empirical Research Methods

Empirical research articles are scholarly, peer-reviewed journal articles that are based on data collected during the authors' real-life experiments or observations. They are primary research documents that contain either qualitative or quantitative research methods:

  • Qualitative research focuses on collecting in-depth information from small sample sizes in order to describe a trend. Data is typically collected through one-on-one interviews with participants.
  • Quantitative research uses large, representative sample sizes to collect a variety of statistics that can then be generalized. Data is typically collected through a questionnaire, attitude scale, or achievement test.


College of Southern Maryland. CSM Library. (2018, Jan. 19). Empirical research article. Retrieved July 15, 2019, from

Pan, M. L. (2016). Preparing literature reviews: Qualitative and quantitative approaches (5th ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

Penn State University Libraries. (2019, May 9). Empirical research in the social sciences and education. Retrieved July 15, 2019, from

University of La Verne. Wilson Library. (2018, June 26). Identify empirical research articles. Retrieved July 15, 2019, from

Developing Research Questions

​​​​​​Refine your research topic to an answerable question that is innovative, clearly defined, and focused on problem resolution. Your question should include distinct concepts for analysis and not be too broad or too narrow in scope.

A research question framework such as PICO or PEO can help you develop your research question. The framework can help you develop your research question by asking who, what, where, and when. 

Once you have established an answerable research question, determine your question’s research need. Does your question address a "gap" within the literature? Does it address a larger societal impact or importance? If not, you may have to formulate a new or modified question.

To assess your topic’s research need, conduct a preliminary literature search in at least one appropriate database. Based on search results, refine your topic by either addressing a related unanswered question, choosing another population, or shifting to another topic altogether.


Source: Adapted from "Research, Writing and Publishing: Review Scholarly Literature," The Maguire Medical Library, Florida State University

PEO Research Question Framework

PEO: Simple framework for many types of qualitative  research questions. 

  • Population: What group am I focused on?
    • Example: teenage girls
  • Exposure: What is your population being exposed to, or what is their problem/issue?
    • Example: social media use
  • Outcome: What is the result of the exposure or problem/issue?
    • Example: anxiety disorders

Example research question: In teenage girls, is there an association between social media use and the development of anxiety disorders?


Forming Focused Questions from PICO, University of North Carolina Libraries:

Framing a Research Question, University of Maryland Libraries:

Key Words and Concepts

Before searching databases, break your research topic/question into key words and concepts.

 Example Research Question

How do social networking sites impact the mental health of adolescents?

Concept + Key Words

Social Networking Adolescents Mental Health
social media, Meta, TikTok, Twitter, X... teens, teenagers, preteen, high school... mental illness, depression, anxiety, suicide...