Cupping the Spark in Our Hands: Developing a Better Understanding of the Research Question in Inquiry-Based Writing

Document Type


Publication Date

April 2010

Faculty Sponsor

Dr. Heidi Estrem


This article serves to highlight the unique position the research question holds in inquiry-based research writing. Inquiry-based educational theories contend that learning begins with the act of questioning. In first-year writing courses, inquiry-based writing often takes form as research writing. Yet research writing remains especially challenging for many first- year college students inquiry-based writing teaching methods have been cited as a valuable approach to help first-year writing students more fully engage research writing. Most text books and many teaching methods treat the research question as a part of the pre-writing phase of a research unit. It is my contention that the inquiry-based research should be treated as text in its own right and as such should be approached through process writing. Students should be encouraged to pre-write, draft, and revise their research question before they begin their research project. In this article I will discuss the way first year writers write research questions bases on a textual analysis of over one hundred student samples. I will also discuss possible strategies and pre-writing exercises based in low-stake imaginative writing genres like fiction and poetry as a method of teaching first-year writing students to form inquiry-based research questions which are focused and well-developed.

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