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DNTL 2244 - C. Adriano: Part 1: Develop a Research Question

A library guide for resources relevant to Community Oral Health II.

Step 1.

Choose a Topic: The best approach is to choose a topic that you are interested in. If you are interested in your topic, you are more likely to invest more time, effort, and creativity into your research and writing. Think of questions that either you or your patients have had during clinic. A topic is not the same as a research question. It is the big picture, for example, Pediatric Dentistry is the overarching topic that includes braces for children.  Watch this brief tutorial from North Carolina State University Libraries on choosing a topic.


Step 2.

Conduct Preliminary Research: Before you write your question, do preliminary research of relevant academic sources to make sure there is enough literature available on your topic to develop an answerable research question. You will need a minimum of 4 credible sources, with at least 2 from scholarly journals articles.  The other two sources can be from books, magazines, podcasts, etc.

Do a search in the library catalog for books or articles on a topic before you start writing your research question. If you do not find a lot of information at this point, move on to another topic of interest.

For example, you are interested in how nutrition and diet impact the health of children. Do a search in the library's catalog for the terms dental health children.

This keyword search results in 108,001 sources, including books, journal articles, magazine articles, and newspaper articles. This means that there are several resources on this topic. Next, open some of these sources to determine if they will work for your project.

Write an annotated bibliography. An annotated bibliography is a list of cited sources with brief explanations centering around one topic or research question. The purpose of the annotation is to inform the reader of the relevance, accuracy, and quality of the sources cited. Think of an annotation as an evaluation of the source, where you emphasize the credibility & currency, relevancy & reliability, authority & audience, and purpose & point of view of the source (CRAAP). The annotation is formatted directly below the citation (hanging indent) and is double spaced. 

Ask these questions when preparing your Annotation:

Currency & Credibility: When was the source written? Is the information still applicable? How credible is the author or the source? Who published the work?

Relevancy & Reliability: Is the information provided appropriate for your research topic? Does it provide good coverage of the topic? Is there a Reference list, Notes, or Bibliography? Is the information appropriate for college level research?

Authority & Audience: What are the credentials of the author--education, expertise, experience? Is it published by a person or an organization? Who is the intended audience? Does the author/creator have a bias?

Purpose & Point of View: Is the source intended to educate, persuade, or sell you something? Is the work in a scholarly peer-reviewed journal or a trade journal?

Below is an example of a Annotated Bibliography with two articles and two books.

Step 3.

Narrow Down Your Topic: In order to narrow down and focus the topic, consider a specific issue or debate within the broader topic. There are several ways that you might go about narrowing down your topic:

  • What subtopics relate to the broader topic?
  • What questions did your preliminary research raise?
  • What do you find interesting about the topic?

Explain a topic by answering the following questions. Use this information to help you organize your paper. Did you have difficulty answering some questions? Do some areas of your topic need further development, or do you need to change your focus?

  1. Who is doing it?
  2. What is the issue?
  3. When does it begin and end?
  4. Where is it taking place? 
  5. Why does it occur?
  6. How is it done? 

Below is an example of narrowing the topic about minimum wage. Think of your topic and fill in the boxes accordingly. Using Bruxism as the topic, WHO would be children, WHAT would be long-term damage, WHERE would be the United States, HOW would be an intervention plan. You could also use WHEN to identify when is the best time to treat a patient with bruxism.

image credit: Narrow a Topic Loyola Marymount University William H. Hannon Library

Step 4.

Write the Research Question  A good research question is simple, yet still requires a good deal of analysis to answer.  Do not choose something that is already common knowledge in the dental field. Review this slide presentation by William Badke for more tips on writing a good research question.