Defining a research question for your term paper

Basic criteria for a research question:

  • It must be possible to answer it (within a reasonable time span).

  • It must be specific.

  • It must be relevant to the course for which you are writing the term paper.

 Once you have an idea for a research question, find out
  • what has been written on the topic before (library, Google Scholar + MA theses in
  • what kind of and how much data you need
    • spoken/written English?
    • texts, words, sentences? 
    • different text types?
  • which corpus/corpora you are going to use
  • how you need to analyse and classify your examples in order to answer your research question.
 Where can you find the ideas?
  • special interest
  • claims made in grammars, textbooks or linguistics articles that you distrust or disagree with
  • suggested topics for further research at the end of research articles
  • 'hands-on' exercises in your courses and textboooks
  • discussions with teacher and/or other students
 Getting started
  • talk to your teacher about your research idea
  • formulate a research question (or set of research questions)
  • form a hypothesis: i.e. what do you think you will find out?
  • read secondary literature (but not forever)
  • start as early as possible with finding data and analysing them
  • write a tentative outline
  • set deadlines for yourself
As a rule: the more precisely you have formulated your research question and your hypotheses, the easier it is to get started with the real work.

Gibaldi, Joseph.
2009. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. New York: Modern Language Association of America.
Johannesson, Nils-Lennart 1993 [1986] English language essays : investigation method and writing strategies. Stockholm: English Department, University of Stockholm.

Sealey, Alison. 2010. Researching English Language. A resource book for students. Oxon: Routledge.

Useful links related to writing term papers

Resource page from the University Library on the use of sources and referencing styles: 
Search and write (Søk og skriv):

Practical Guidelines for Writing a Paper in Linguistics from the University of Aachen