FYE 112: Africana American Studies II: Formulate Questions/Thesis

Professor Cona Marshall. Spring 2018.

Formulate Questions

Once you have selected an initial topic, the next step is to develop research questions.  You'll do this by using probing questions, such as what, why, when, how, would/could, should.

Phrasing your topic in the form of questions helps direct the research process.

WHAT questions focus on a particular aspect of the topic: What are the effects of mass incarceration of African Americans on individuals, families, society?

WHY questions ask for an explanation of something--why it happened, why it did not happen, or why one thing is better than another. For instance, why are African Americans incarcerated at a higher rate than whites?

WHEN questions focus on timing or history:  When did African American mass incarceration begin?  

WHERE questions focus the topic on a location, either geographical or other. Does the rate of African American incarceration differ in other countries?

HOW questions focus aspects of the topic on a process or on the origin.  How does implicit bias reduce impartiality?  How can implicit bias be eliminated?

WOULD / COULD questions focus on possibilities.   Could stop and frisk reforms lower mass incarceration?

SHOULD questions focus on the appropriateness of a particular action, policy, procedure, or decision.  Should implicit bias training be provided to all those within the criminal justice system?



Source:  Mike Palmquest.   Bedford Researcher.   Colorado State University.


A good research question will lead to your thesis statement.

For example, the question...

How does implicit bias training impact African American incarceration?

...might lead to the following thesis:

"Implicit bias training reduces racially triggered responses, instills a motivation to fairness and impartiality, and decreases the incarceration rate of African Americans."

Strong  thesis statements

  • Answer a question
  • Are engaging 
  • Can be challenged or opposed, thus also defended
  • Pass the 

or "why should I care?" test

  • Are supported by your paper
  • Are neither too broad nor too vague

Source:  Thesis Statements.  George Mason University. 

Thesis Generator

Image source: Powernowllc. CC0 1.0.  Wikimedia Commons.