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Writing Program at New College

Assignments - Research Question and Reflection

We have arrived at a crucial moment in the semester and in everyone’s individual inquiry process. Now that you have identified an issue you have identified as important, worked through several drafts of a research question, and drafted a narrative identifying your personal connection to this issue, the time has come to reflect on the process that has brought even greater focus to your original inquiry. In order to consider and assess your own learning thus far, we ask that you also write an informal but thoughtful reflection on the research question process. This assignment sheet recaps work accomplished thus far, details the short reflection essay assignment, and concludes with a sample Research Question Reflection.

The research question and reflection assignment has two parts:

1.   Share your existing research question with members of the class. As a group, use these criteria (now familiar to you) to refine your research questions:

a.   The question accurately reflects the issue about which you want to learn.

b.   The question is neither too broad nor too narrow considering the time and resources you have for research. Be ambitious, but not too ambitious!

c.    Key terms and phrases in the question reflect the language used by other researchers inquiring into the same issue(s). In other words, your question clearly participates in the existing scholarly conversation.

d.   The question is effectively edited and free of sentence-level errors.

2.   Write a brief (approx. 500 words) reflection on what you have learned in the research-question process. The goal of this writing is to record how your thinking about the issue may have developed or changed, and perhaps, how your thinking about the process of research itself has changed. As long as you communicate these ideas, you may take this short essay in any direction you like. You may write it as a narrative, the story or your research process. If you prefer, write more of a thesis-driven essay in which you make a careful case about what you’ve learned. And of course, you might find some other way of responding. Just make sure your response reflects on and communicates what you understand as the heart of your learning process thus far.


A successful response to this assignment will:

  • Include the initial research question, a final version, and a brief reflective essay
  • Present a final research question that is clear, well focused, and appropriate given our available time and resources this semester;
  • Include a reflective essay that clearly communicates the writer’s learning process, using important details from that process in illustration;
  • Be effectively edited



Sample Response to This Assignment

Josephine Student

ENG 102.12345

Dr. Murphy

Spring 2012

Formal Research Question Assignment

Original Research Question:  What can ASU do to prevent eating disorders?

Revised Research Question:  How can ASU raise awareness about eating disorders as well as encourage people who may be suffering from eating disorders to seek help?

Reflection:  Given the freedom to write a research on paper on any topic you wish might be a dream come true to other writing students; however, I found the lack of restrictions quite challenging. My mind went in 100 directions when given the assignment. I thought about world peace, vegetarianism, and dorm food.  My first “real” topic then became starvation among African youth. After shooting down this topic because of its enormity and because my lack of personal connection, I decided to discuss eating disorders among college students – especially females. I have personal experience with this subject because I once suffered through a terrifying struggle with bulimia. Also, as a Community Assistant in a residential hall at Arizona State University, part of my job is to promote healthy life styles in general, including healthy eating habits. I admit that the process of starting, stopping, and reconfiguring my research question was frustrating, but I also came to realize the importance of that process.  I can now speak from experience and with passion – through my personal connection to the research question – as well as read and analyze the research materials with a more critical and careful eye because of that first-hand experience.

The next problem I faced in formulating my research question was the broad scope of my question.  I had always thought that bigger was better when it came to doing research. However, I quickly changed my mind about that after doing just a little bit of research.  After spending thirty minutes rummaging through Google Scholar, I realized I was having difficulty pinpointing relative and important information. In addition, the hugeness of it all made it hard to find something I wanted to write about. It was at this moment I decided to talk specifically about and to female college students at Arizona State University.  Since I am both a CA and a student at ASU, I decided to think about the project in terms of an actual program or presentation I could share with other students on campus. 

Another thing I found in my initial research was a National Eating Disorders Awareness Week.  Excited that I might be able to “do” something “real” with my research, I came up with “What can ASU do to prevent eating disorders?”  I really thought this was my final question, but my faculty writing mentor made me see that the question implies a single, identifiable answer exists to the question. This is something even I knew was not possible.  To avoid that frustration and to create a positive and proactive spin on the subject, I came up with this:  How can ASU raise awareness about eating disorders as well as encourage people who may be suffering from eating disorders to seek help? The answers to my question will not only allow me to learn about ways to prevent eating disorders; my research allows me to think of ways other than writing an essay in order to share that information. 

Writing Program