SEE ALSO: Research Conference in Santa Clara

this workshop based on chapter 3 of Booth et al. The Craft of Research. DOCX and PDF versions at bottom of this page.

From Interests to Topics to Questions to Problems

Name five things you are interested in (36.8). Try to make these as different as possible from one another so that they don't overlap.

Write a sentence or two about each explaining or commenting on each of your interests.

Now pick one of these interests and identify three topics connected to it that are in some loose way sociological or anthropological.

Since we are heading in the direction of a research project, we want to think for a moment about what makes each of these interesting and promising.

Topic Interesting Promising

Now we want to think about the broadness or narrowness of the topics (see 37.6-39.1)

For each of your topics, try to think about it in both directions: start with what you have and think about what a much broader question would be and then think about what a much narrow question would be. In its original form it might be a bit too broad or a bit too narrow. What we want to do is to sketch the spectrum.

Topic Too Broad Broad Narrow Too Narrow

PROCESS: at each stage we ask for volunteer and review what they have for 2-3 minutes then break so that pairs can discuss what they have for about 10 minutes.

From narrowed topic to questions

When we have a topic that is Interesting, Promising, and Narrowed, we can start asking questions.


(10 minutes) Brainstorm questions about your topic. Ask questions that make sense in your field and around this topic. Who, what, when, where, where, why, how?

Now we will engage in a structured approach to questioning our topic:

Parts and Wholes
  • Ask about components or parts of your topic
  • Ask about things of which your topic is a part or component, systems it is part of
History and Change
  • Ask questions about the natural history of your topic. How does it unfold in time, change over time?
  • Ask questions about the larger history in which your topic is embedded.
Categories and Cases
  • What are the categories of variation within your topic? Different types or varieties or species?
  • What are the different things that your topic might be an exemplar or case of?
  • How does your topic touch on moral values? Things people care about?
  • What are the moral dimensions within your topic?

From question to significance

  1. Name the topic: "I am working on/studying NOUN PHRASE
  2. Suggest a question "because I want to find out who/what/why/when/where/whether/how SUBJECT + VERB
  3. Motivate the question: "in order to understand how/why/whether…"

how to do something
how something happens
why something happens rather than something else
whether something is something or something else

File nameFile typeSize
FROM INTERESTS TO QUESTIONS.docxNo description88.56 kBInfo