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Image: Andés de Islas, Retrato de Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, 1772. Oil on canvas. Museo de América. Wikimedia Commons.
Developing a research question can feel like an impossible first step. In the beginning it is helpful to keep your ideas broad, and then hone in on your research question as you encounter new materials. Often it is through the process of research itself that we find a research topic.
Research is iterative. There is no correct way to do research, but the following guidelines might be useful to keep in mind as you begin:
Background information is useful for getting your footing on an unfamiliar topic.
After gathering your background information, refine your initial topic and question based off of what you learned. A good rule of thumb: if there is an entire book on your topic, it is too broad for a research paper. On the other hand, if the topic can be discussed in a few paragraphs, then it is too narrow.
Example: "The role of women in the plays of Shakespeare" is too broad because hundreds of books and articles have been written on this topic; "The symbolism of Ariel's costume in the Tempest" is likely too narrow because there are not enough books and articles discussing this specific detail.
Remember, don't worry if refining your topic happens more than once!