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Writing 2 (Terhaar): Science Research Projects

Step 2: Developing Your Research Question

Your assignment for our class is to conduct research and write a research essay. This assignment will be broken down into manageable steps which will unfold over the entire quarter. (Warning: the steps may become unmanageable if you fall behind, so maintain good work habits from the start!) Roughly the first half of the quarter will be spent trying to answer your research question, with the second half of the quarter spent writing up the results of your inquiry and research. The class will conclude with your oral and written presentation of your research findings.

Most research starts with the development of a research question, a question, which, if answered, provides knowledge or information about something. Or helps us identify a new problem or points us in a direction that may eventually lead to an answer for an existing problem. So your research essay for this class will be fundamentally different from a high school research essay, which usually talks “about” its topic. (I often say this type of high school essay resembles a “brain dump” of almost every bit of knowledge and fact about its topic.) For the purpose of our class, your research essay will be less an effort of talking about a bunch of facts and more an effort of figuring out or discovering what might be correct or true about your research question.

For one of the first assignments, I will ask you to select a species. You can select any species whatsoever, including:

  • plants (redwood, aspen, or _______), terrestrial creatures (polar bear, fox, or _______),
  • marine/aquatic creatures (oyster, clownfish, or  _______),
  • viruses (such as those that cause Ebola, dengue, or yellow fever, or?) or parasites (such as those that cause Lyme disease, malaria, or _______),
  • humans (but only if you select a group of people living in a particular geographic area, such as the island of Tuvalu, Bangladesh, south-central Los Angeles, or  _______),
  • or a species nobody pays much attention to (such as slime molds, jelly fish, sea snails, banana slugs, or _______)

For this class, I’ve simplified the development of your research question. Everyone will start with a similar research question: Will climate change impact species X and, if so, how? You will fill in “species X” with your chosen species. Your research essay will reflect your attempt to answer your research question, so your first job is to discover what other researchers have learned about the impact of climate change on your species. But remember: you may need to modify your research question in another two steps.