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Research Process: A Step-By-Step Guide: 2b. Develop a Research Topic

A guide to help you through the steps of the research process.

Developing Research Questions

Once you have selected a topic, the next step is to develop research questions.

  • Write down what you already know or don't know about the topic.
  • Use that information to develop questions.
  • Use probing questions. (why? what if?)
  • Avoid "yes" and "no" questions. 

Purpose of Background Research

Once you have identified some keywords, the next step is to find background information on your topic. Background research:

  • Provides a good overview of the topic if you are unfamiliar with it.
  • Helps identify important facts -- terminology, dates, events, history, organizations, etc.
  • Can help refine your topic.
  • Leads to bibliographies which provide additional sources of information.

Sources of Background Information

Background information can be found in:

  • textbooks
  • dictionaries
  • general encyclopedias
  • subject-specific encyclopedias 
  • article databases

Use the sources listed on the Academy of Art Library's subject guides.




Picking your Topic is Research

Concept Mapping

What is a Concept Map?

A concept map is a good way to begin the research process.
It can:
  • help you to graphically represent and organize ideas.
  • show how those ideas are related to each other.
  • help you translate your ideas into a manageable topic.
  • generate questions to focus on in your research.

Example: Compare and contrast two works of art

What do or don't I know about the two works of art?

I know:

  • I know they are from two different period styles.
  • I know where and when the work was created.
  • I know who the artists were for each work and some biographical information about them.
  • I know that the work that was produced later has a direct reference to the earlier work.
  • I know what type of composition, perspective and colors are used to create the work.
  • I know what type of work it is. (religious, historical, allegorical, still life, portrait, landscape, etc.)

I don't know:

  • what criteria I will use to compare and contrast the works of art.
  • why these particular works are considered significant in the art periods they represent.
  • what elements or images repeat and what do these patterns mean. 
  • the political, societal, and religious context in which the art works were produced

Research Questions

  • What are the visual elements, symbolism, and/or iconography in each work of art?
  • How do the formal/visual elements convey theme, mood or meaning?
  • What is the subject matter or story of each work?
  • What is the function of each piece? 
  • Were the artists who created these works primary or secondary artists in the art period they worked in?
  • What political, societal, or religious situation or figure do the works represent?