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Your research and writing will be guided by a central research question. The sooner you can develop one the better, but this also can't be rushed.
This is not a needless hoop for you to jump through. The more you can own your question, the more you can pose one you are eager to answer, the better you'll be able to conduct your research. You'll read faster (skipping past things that aren't relevant) and will have clear purpose when you organize your ideas and write. In short, this is a key step!
*Fill in the following:
I am studying ___________ because I want to find out who/what/when/where/whether/why/how ____________________ in order to help my reader understand ___________________.
So, my guiding question is: Who/what/when/where/whether/why/how __________________________ ?
*Pay attention to your curiosity as you begin your background reading. Jot down your questions as you go. "Why" and "how" tend to work better than "who" and "when" questions.
*Follow leads. Encounter an interesting person or odd occurrence? Find a bit of irony or a strange cause and effect relationship? Pay attention to these and pursue them, doing a bit of research to fill in some details.
*Go narrow and deep. Broad topics make research difficult and dull. Choose a narrow topic where you can take on real questions.
For example: Interested in the US boycott of the Moscow Olympics? Rather than look at why the United States pulled out -- a topic zillions of historians have tackled and one you cannot analyze well in a ten page paper -- how about looking at the response of athletes? Pursuing that lead, you might notice that boxer Muhammad Ali supported and was a spokesman for the boycott before changing his mind. Maybe you look at Ali's experience and change of heart? Perhaps you look at a few athletes who, despite their obvious interest in competing, supported President Carter's decision? What motivated them to back Carter?
*Following a trail can lead you to a narrow your topic and hone a more interesting question.
*Your teacher will ask you to articulate this guiding question.
Your response should not require checking your notes. Own this question -- internalize it; let it motivate your work -- and you will research and write with greater purpose and focus. Your eventual thesis will answer the question, and the paper will seek to prove your answer.